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Times Past: Origin

 
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Ebon Ilnaren
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 04, 2015 12:56 am    Post subject: Times Past: Origin Reply with quote

Part I - Taken

Many years ago....

The sun shone bright upon a small village, nestled between fields of rain and forested hills. It was High Summer, a festival time in Ar-Kyrul, and so the townfolk and farmers came together in celebration. Yet beneath the surface joy ran an undercurrent of fear, for High Summer was also the time for culling.

* * *

"Azure! Don't run s'far from home! Mama will be mad!" Behind a small farmhouse at the edge of town, two children played in their family field, a boy and a girl. The boy, who was older, laughed even as he admonished his sister to slow down. "I'll tell her and she'll shake you!"

"Can't catch! Can't catch!" As she crested a rise, the girl paused a moment to turn and stick her tongue out at her brother. "Nyah nah, Ebon!"

The boy's black eyes widened in sheer terror, for behind Azure, a single figure dropped out of the sky. Clad in silver mail and billowing, silver-threaded cloak, the stranger hovered over both children, silent and menacing. As Azure turned and looked up, screaming, he looked down at her and smiled.

It was not a pleasant smile.

Though he had never seen one before, the boy recognized the intruder from stories his parents had told him, horrible tales and warnings that if the children misbehaved, the Silver Knives would get them. Now one of those very same nights was here, in front of him. His heart thudded with the fear. "AZURE! RUN! Hurriaaaagh!" He was unable to finish the warning, for suddenly his brain was afire with pain, his knees buckled, and he crumpled to the ground.

Something--a hand?--grabbed Ebon's hair and yanked hard, pulling his head up, as the Knife crouched down in front of him. "You have spirit, boy. Best to lose it, now; where you're going, spirit will get you dead... or worse than dead." Then the force that gripped his hair lifted him up from the ground, none too gently, and both children were half-marched, half-dragged down the hill to their farmhouse and the village beyond.


Last edited by Ebon Ilnaren on Thu Oct 04, 2018 1:51 pm; edited 3 times in total
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Ebon Ilnaren
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 04, 2015 12:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The village was in flames.

By the time their captor had brought Ebon and Azure to the market square, more than half of the buildings were well on their way to ash. Townsfolk dashed to and fro, some trying to hide, others pleading to the invading Silver Knives for their lives. None put up a fight; those few who had, at the start, lay strewn about the square, their blood pooling and drying in the dust.

Looking up, Ebon saw several heads speared upon pikes. One of them, in particular, caught his attention. "P-papa?"

"Silence, boy! Stay here, both of you." The Knife's command was followed with a brief, but painful, mindlash, and he stalked off.

Weeping and screams filled the air all around the two children, and as they stood there two women burst into view. Their clothes ripped and tattered, they dashed across the square... but while one kept going out of sight, the other spied Ebon and Azure, and froze. "No! My babies!" She managed two steps towards them before her feet were yanked from beneath her by an unseen force.

"Mama!" cried Azure.

A Silver Knife stepped into the square from the direction where the other woman had disappeared. He looked to the children's mother and his lips curled into a cruel smile. "When you're through with that one, lads" he said, calling over his shoulder, "I've another here." Ignoring the boy and girl watching him, the Knife strode over to his next victim and, with the casual arrogance of one who knows he will not be stopped, tore at her clothes. She screamed, but could not struggle; her arms and legs were pinned to the ground by the same force that had tripped her.

Though his young heart burned to break free, to fight back, Ebon could only watch helplessly as first one Knife, then another and then yet another ravaged his beloved mother. They laughed and urged each other on, while through it all tears streamed from her eyes and were matched by Ebon's own tears.

When the last Knife rose to his feet, he glanced over to the children and then back at his comrades. "Hers, those are." He looked down at the woman lying in the dirt and sneered. "Get up, you!" Slowly she gathered herself up and stood before the three invaders, eyes downcast. "Ah, you're broken, aren't you. There's nothing left in you. Just as we-"

At that moment, she looked up and spat in his face. Silence hung over the tableau, making seconds feel like hours. Then the Knife backhanded her and sent her reeling, staggering backwards until she stood near her children. The Knife's eyes shone with a cold light.

There was a popping sound, and something warm and wet struck Ebon's cheek.

"That's enough of that," said a cold voice; it was the Knife who had first captured the two children. Now he stepped past them, with more young ones in tow. "This is the lot of them. Let's be on our way." Turning, he motioned for the children to walk, and led them through the village. They paused at a large home, where three more Knives were herding the last remaining villagers inside as they cried out in sheer horror. Once all were trapped within, the doors were sealed... and, with a thought from the invaders, the walls burst into flame.

For several minutes the Knives and the children stood there, watching the flames consume the building and its contents while the air filled with the acrid scent of burning flesh. The captain, the one who had captured Azure and Ebon, looked at all of his newly acquired charges with a grim expression. "Your lives, as you have known them, are over. Now and forever, you belong to the Kyrul. Move."

So the children were guided back down the road, out of the village that had been their home since they were born, and into slavery.


Last edited by Ebon Ilnaren on Thu Oct 04, 2018 1:53 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 04, 2015 1:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Part II - Broken

The years passed after Ebon's village and family were slaughtered, while he and Azure were taken into slavery. Claimed for the Kyrul's palace, they were separated from one another; Azure was relegated to the women's slave quarters until she was old enough to work, while Ebon found himself in the kitchens. He scurried about, anxious to please his masters and so avoid the lash or, worse yet, a mindwhip from one of the crueler overlords. Often, as he passed, he heard the word "freak" float behind him. It did little to help his morale.

Ebon found that he was a freak due to his pure black eyes. In a realm where bodily form and features dictated one's caste, abnormality meant poverty or, worse, enslavement; many of the palace slaves were unusual. Some had odd-colored hair, others extra-jointed fingers, or some other feature that marked them as different. The only odd ones who were not slaves were the Silver Knives... but then, they bore a different sort of chain, lower-caste children found to possess the psionic gift, indoctrinated to serve the Kyrul without question. In his rare private moments, Ebon found that he felt sorry for them, too.

* * *

Another year had passed; Ebon was thirteen. He had been taken from the kitchens and placed as a serving boy. He wasn't sure why, although he heard vague whisperings.

"....a pretty boy...."
"....think some of them might like him...."
"....fresh blood...."

None of this talk gave him any hope, and the other serving boys and girls kept to themselves, their haunted eyes looking away. Still, he went about his task as best he could.

One of the noble girls, Ulara, seemed to take a special interest in Ebon, claiming him as one of her own special servants. She was only a few years older than him, but an abyss beyond age separated them, for she was one of the Kyrul's own kindred, brown-skinned--darker than Ebon's own olive-tan--and green-eyed, and just under five feet tall. Still, she smiled upon the boy, and spoke to him kindly, and he began to grow comfortable in her service.

Yet even her other serving boys had those same haunted eyes. After several months in Ulara's charge, Ebon learned why.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 04, 2015 1:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Ah, what a lovely day this has been," cooed Ulara as she drifted into her chambers. "A pity about his lady... the trouble with nobility is that one has to maintain a sense of public decorum, no?" She glanced to the slaves around her, who looked down and murmured agreement. "Well, I'm not going to let my night be spoiled by that. Hmmmmmmmm... Ebon, remain. The rest of you may go."

As the boy stepped forward, the others looked at him with a mixture of pity and relief in their faces. He, however, was oblivious; this was the first time he had been asked to attend Ulara as she prepared for sleep, and he wanted to impress her.

Once they were alone, she motioned for him to follow as she walked over to the bath and sat on the bench beside it. "Remove my dress, please." Ebon blinked and his dark eyes widened in shock, but he quickly approached and began to assist her, untying the ribbons and lacing that secured her silken garment. "You have a gentle touch, Ebon." Once undressed, Ulara rose and slipped into the warm bath to relax while he poured more warm water over her, and rubbed lotions into her hair. All the while, she sighed contentedly.

The bath done, she rose out of the waters; Ebon held out a robe, but she shook her head. "No need for that... now attend." Crossing to her sleeping chambers, she lay down upon the bed, her nude body stretched out. Ebon stood by the doorway, hesitant to enter, even as Ulara crooked a finger at him. "Come here, boy... attend me." Was there a hint of impatience in her voice?

Slowly he crossed to the bedside. "Yes, mistress?"

"You're a pretty one, Ebon.... and well-named, with those eyes of yours. Do you think me pretty, too?"

"Y-you are the loveliest in all the Kyrul's realm, mistress." Ebon wasn't sure what else to say; he was young, but already he had begun to realize that Ulara and the other girls were more than he had thought. Such ideas shamed him, and his skin darkened in embarrassment.

Ulara smiled, rolling over onto her side. "Why, Ebon, I do believe you're blushing, you darling boy." She held out one hand to him. "Come, lie with me... you've no reason to fear."

Realization struck Ebon like a lightning bolt. The slave quarters were not well-partitioned, and he had heard the sound of coupling in the night.... but something, some instinct, told him this was not something for which he was ready, not yet. "Mistress, I... no, please... I...."

That was the wrong choice of words.

"No?" Ulara's inviting eyes grew cold as ice. "No, you say?" A wave of agony washed over Ebon, and he dropped to his knees as she rose from the bed. "Pretty though you are, you do forget your place! I am your mistress, you are my slave. You will do... as... I... SAY!" Again her mind seized Ebon's, but this time there was no pain.... only a shock of disassociation and revulsion as she forced him to crawl upon the bed, and lay still. Then unseen hands ripped his clothes apart until he was all but naked.

Ulara slid over him, smiling again... but she did not release him, and that smile was cruel. "I will have you, darling Ebon... a pity you couldn't enjoy the experience." He felt his own body responding to her touch despite his inner cries of anguish as she rose above him...

...but all he could do was watch.

* * *

Two years. It had been two years since Ulara used Ebon and eventually discarded him like an old puppet, a particularly apt analogy. He had lost everything: his home, his family, his innocence, and, finally, himself. The boy was little more than an automaton, performing the tasks set before him without lifting his eyes, eating and sleeping purely by rote.

He was broken.


Last edited by Ebon Ilnaren on Thu Oct 04, 2018 1:58 pm; edited 4 times in total
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 11, 2015 1:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Part III - Found

"Boy!" The dark-eyed lad turned and looked up when he heard the voice calling. "Get over here, boy!" He hurried as quickly as he could, for it did no good to delay; all that would earn him was a lashing at best. The scullion-chief gestured to a tray as he approached. "It's your lucky night. You get to walk the halls of glory; our Master is entertaining tonight, and demands refreshment. Take that to his chambers." There was the briefest of pauses. "You do know the way, don't you?" The boy nodded once, and moved to take up the tray. "Off with you, then!"

As he watched his youngest servant go, the chief sighed. Why did he always get the broken ones?

* * *

It was late, and though the palace halls were not empty, they were quiet. Torchlight flickered and threw ominous shadows against the walls as slaves hurried past, silent in their tasks. Now and then courtiers relaxed upon elegant furniture, indulging in their passions for food, or drink, or each other without shame. Occasional whispers sounded from behind him, but he dared not stop or even look back. Tapestries and fine artwork adorned the walls, while statues looked out upon all who passed by them.

The boy hated those statues. He felt as if they were leering at him.

Finally he came to his destination, an ornate curtained archway flanked by two guards clad in silver armor. One of them looked down as he approached. "0What do you want, freak?" When there was no immediate reply, he took a step forward, reaching for his blade.

The other guard lifted his hand in a staying gesture and looked down at the boy. "Well?"

"The Kyrul sent for refreshment." Keeping his eyes down, the lad raised the tray he carried, holding it up until it began to shake in his trembling hands.

A knowing smirk crossed the first guard's face as he stepped back into position, while his partner simply sneered. "I can imagine. Very well, you may pass." He waved the boy through as silken curtains lifted out of the way.

Sounds reached out to the boy as he made his way through the grand chambers, filled with the opulence that power demanded. They were sounds of lust and of pain: the rustle of sheets, the sliding of skin against skin. They were sounds all too familiar to him, and above them all the harsh grunts of the Kyrul as he had his way, the whimpers of his latest plaything, forever ruined.

"Ah! Boy! Set that down!"

His lord and master's voice boomed in his ears and mind alike as they boy set the tray upon the side table and turned to leave. He paused just a moment, then hurried out of the room.

* * *

Back in his bedroll, huddled in a corner of the scullion quarters, the boy thought back to that moment. As he was turning to go, something touched him, a sense of someone familiar, and for the first time he lifted his eyes to behold two figures lying upon the bed. One was the Kyrul, oblivious to all but sating his hunger as he reached for the newly-brought food, but the other, almost dwarfed by her tormentor, stared back at him with eyes that pleaded for rescue. Eyes so much like his own, eyes of solid...

"Azure," whispered Ebon as the truth struck him, and in the depths of his mind a memory stirred, a memory of happier times. In finding her, he had found himself once more.

Now all he had to do was find a way to get them out.


Last edited by Ebon Ilnaren on Sun May 13, 2018 4:01 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 05, 2015 10:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interlude

"Matron, I'm sorry, I haven't been well the last few days." Eyes of deep, solid blue gazed up at the frowning woman, matron of the palace's pleasure slaves. Azure, the aptly-named owner of those pleading eyes, quickly glanced down. "I thought I could take some of the night meal, but... I'll clean it right away!"

The other woman's frown deepened into a disgusted scowl. "Yes, you'll clean up your spew, and then we'll have you to Healer Jisecor! I'll not have you sickening the rest of the girls!"

A gasp slipped from her lips, and then Azure redoubled her efforts to remove all trace of her retching. "Please, matron, that's hardly nece-AAH!" The cry cut off her words as a slap resounded through the chamber.

"Learn your place, girl! Now move!"

* * *

When the healer emerged from the alcove where Azure waited, her expression was unreadable. "Matron? A word." She approached the older woman and spoke in low tones. "You've been lax in your responsibilities." A staying hand went up to silence the matron's protests. "Azure has seen three passings of the moon's blood. The last one was two months ago."

The scowl on the matron's face was edged with anxiety as she hissed, "Impossible! She can't be of age yet!"

"You doubt my expertise?" There was a touch of venom in Jisecor's voice. "She belongs to the Kyrul. You know the laws and their consequences." As the other woman silently pondered those words, the healer moved to a shelf and filled a small vial with dark, viscous liquid before handing it over. "Consider this a mercy. I do." Then she went back to the alcove and pulled back the curtain, all smiles. "Thank you for waiting, Azure! I've given your mistress some medicine to relieve your illness. You'll soon be feeling better."

With a shy smile, Azure dipped her head. "I live only to serve." The words came by rote, and then she backed away, past the matron before turning away.

Neither Azure nor Jisecor saw the slavemistress' eyes narrow or her frown darken as she followed her charge out the door.
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 24, 2015 1:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Part IV - Lost

Escaping from the Kyrul's slavery was far harder to accomplish than it was to dream, or so Ebon quickly found. Harder still for two. That did not, however, stop him from planning; if anything, the challenge kept him focused when he could spare a thought for it. This wasn't always possible, of course; though the nobility and the Silver Knives who guarded them had varying specialties and degrees of psionic gift, more than a few were telepaths. For most of his day, Ebon had to struggle to control himself, dampen his hopes and plans lest a stray thought lead to their discovery.

He could not afford any lapse, for Azure's sake as much as his own. Moreso, even.

"They killed Forlen." The unexpected voice made Ebon's dark eyes blink, and he turned suddenly to his companion, Lucas, as the young man went on. "He was trying to sneak up and out of the lower kitchen's chimney flue. I guess he figured nobody'd be watching them, and he was certainly skinny enough to get through it. That's why he was always sent to clean 'em."

"Wh-what happened?"

Lucas squeezed his scrubcloth in the dirty bucket, then soaked it again. "Missed where to place his hand, coming out the top, and started sliding back down. He kept his mouth shut, but that didn't matter; they'd sensed him."

Ebon sighed and gave a little nod. "Knives came quick, then?"

"I think they were waiting for him, like some sort of game. They settled down all around him, but didn't do anything right away. Then someone started a fire down below, got it good and roaring." Lucas shuddered for a moment. "Then one of them used his gift and gave him a push down. He roasted right there in the flue, legs charred right up to his knees." Another squeeze, and the youth rose to his feet. "They fed what was left to the scurriers in the sludge drains."

They're always there, always watching. Ebon's thoughts filled with despair.

"Forlen was stupid." Barely more than a whisper, Lucas' voice just reached Ebon's ears as the pair worked. "He tried to get away on his own. Can't be done. Need help." The boy glanced around, but nobody else was near, and then he grinned at Ebon. "Need the Feranor."

"They're just made-up, stories told by grown-ups to help us sleep."

The older lad shook his head, just once. "My da, he saw them once. Helped two of 'em get away from a Knife patrol, when he was my age. He always told me, whenever anything happened that set the Knives and highcastes scurrying, 'That's the Free Men, that was.' I know they're real." Lucas' voice faltered for a moment. "They have to be."


Last edited by Ebon Ilnaren on Thu Oct 04, 2018 2:37 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 24, 2015 1:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Hold, boy!" Ebon froze in place instantly upon hearing the command, as the silver-clad Knight approached. He glanced down at the cart the boy pushed, then sneered. "Time for supper, is it? You're a bit old to be visiting the Kyrul's favorites; he might get jealous." Reaching out, the Knife grabbed Ebon's chin and tilted the boy's head back to peer into his eyes. "It would be a shame for a handsome lad like you to lose his manhood. The palace slavemasters would get some fine stock, breeding from you." A dark chuckle followed as he released the boy and strode past, down the corridor.

A hushed whimper escaped Ebon's lips, before another voice interrupted his thoughts. "Boy! Hurry up and bring that food! We're famished!" Scowling from the harem quarters' doorway, the matron watched as he approached, but stopped him just before entering. She spoke again, without looking, in a quiet, insistent whisper. "You need to get her away from here, soon." When Ebon blinked in confusion, the matron continued. "Your sister. Or they will kill her."

"Azure?" he replied, matching her tone. "How did y-?"

"Your eyes. I'm not an idiot." Now she did look down to meet his gaze. "I have contacts. They'll reach out to you. Tomorrow night." Withdrawing her hand, the matron spoke again, in normal tones. "Go, boy! I'll take this from here! Get back to your place." Pushing Ebon away, she took the cart and wheeled it inside, leaving him to stand there before he turned and rushed away, back to the kitchens.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 24, 2015 1:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The night passed, and the day as well, though it was painfully slow. Ebon worked hard, as he did every day; not out of any joy to serve, or even from a sense of duty, but rather because it quickened the passage of time. Today, though, was different. Today would be his last as a slave.

He took great care to keep that truth, that hope from his thoughts, however. Otherwise, he knew he would die a slave, and likely soon.

As day transformed into evening and then stretched towards night, however, doubt crept into Ebon's mind. Had it all been a trick? Was he betrayed?

"You, boy." The voice came from the doorway to the palace kitchens, and Ebon turned to see a man in silver armor pointing at him. "Come with me. Now." He turned, and the boy set down the tray he was carrying and followed, not knowing whether he was being taken: to freedom, or death... or simply pain. Other Knives and servants gave them only the briefest of glances, if they even noticed the pair at all. Eventually Ebon overcame his anxiety enough to pay attention to his surroundings, and realized that they were taking a back way to the harems. Was this the contact that the matron had promised?

Though the entrance to the slave chambers was close, two figures in hooded robes waited in the alcove. One was small, and as the newcomers approached, she lowered her hood to reveal a young face with bright blue eyes that shimmered in the torchlight. Before she could speak, however, the other figure reached out to stay her, then lowered her own hood.

Ebon blinked in surprise, while the Knife stopped short. "Healer Jisecor. I did not expect to see you here, so far from your sickrooms." One hand dropped to his sword.

"I told the matron that painless death would be a mercy to the child, but when she refused, I agreed to help get them both out of the city." Jisecor drew herself up straight and proud. "I wear my shackles no more, neither hand nor heart."

"I am a free man," replied the ersatz Knife, almost by rote, and then he frowned. "I was unaware that you were one of us. Call me Penel."

The healer stepped forward, bringing Azure along with her and speaking in low tones. "It's not something to be heralded throughout the palace. Now then... there are some herbs that I need replenished that can only be gathered in the night, as the sunlight diminishes their potency. These are my thrall helpers, and you are set to guard us in the night. Shall we go?"


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 24, 2015 1:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A lengthy pause filled the empty hall, before Penel lifted his hand from his sword hilt, gesturing for her to precede the group. Ebon and Azure fell behind, and he brought up the rear. More than once they were stopped and questioned, and each time the guards let them pass, until finally they were outside under the night sky, moving through the Kyrul's city. As they went, Ebon looked up at Jisecor, a question burning in his mind. "Why would it have been a mercy to kill Azure?" He reached out to take his sister's hand as she gasped at those words.

Jisecor paused a moment before answering. "She is older than was believed when she came into the Kyrul's... service. Old enough to carry a child, and she does. His child." She let that fact sink in before continuing. "You know our laws; it is forbidden to mingle blood between castes. Those who would bring a mongrel into our world must die in pain... both parents. That's the intent, anyway, and why our Great Master prefers unblooded girls for his pleasure."

Disgust was plain in Penel's face as they paused, entering a small courtyard. "So he would have the girl cut down now to save himself? But if we take her... we can use the child to weaken the Kyrul among the other highcastes."

"You could," cried out a voice, and then three figures entered the courtyard from the other side. Two of them were clad in silver armor like the man with the escapees, while the third wore an ornate robe with intricate filigreed decoration and a dagger at his waist; his skin looked to be dark brown under the moonlight, and he sneered. "But you won't leave here alive." Jisecor stepped back beside Penel, drawing a single-edged cutting knife from her belt even as he drew his own sword, while Ebon moved to stand before Azure; his sister, upon hearing that voice, had cringed and dropped to the ground, well and truly cowed. The Kyrul, seeing that, let mock sympathy creep into his voice. "Poor child."

"You leave us alone!" cried Ebon vehemently. He reached down to pick up a piece of brick and hurled it at the evil tyrant with surprising accuracy. Before it struck, however, one of the Silver Knives gestured and the stone seemed to ricochet harmlessly away.

As if on cue, things all happened at once. The first Knife advanced, while in a whirl of robes and glittering blade, Jisecor turned and raised her blade towards Penel, pressing it to his neck before he could react. The blade was sharpened to cut easily through tough stems and bark; flesh was nothing as she calmly and cleanly sliced open his throat. Ebon turned and, grabbing Azure's arm, pulled her to her feet and they began running back the way they'd come, only to find the second Knife suddenly step out of empty air before them, cutting off their escape.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 24, 2015 1:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dragged back before the Kyrul, both children were thrown to their knees in front of him. Jisecor stepped up as well, a triumphant look on her face. "I brought them to you, Great Master, as I promised! I am your loyal one, as ever!"

"Of course you are," crooned the robed lord. "Because I wanted you to be. That's my gift, you see, to play in the hearts of others, to sense their feelings and to twist them. Now, however, your time is through." There was a glint in his eyes, like a brief flash of green, and then Jisecor's expression shifted from triumph to confusion and then to horror. "Unfortunately, with what you know, how could I possibly trust you?" He gestured, and the telekinetic Knife's mind pried the knife from the healer's fingers and plunged it into her chest. She stood there in shock while the Knife drew his sword and raised it.

Under the moon, the blade flashed once, follwed by a soft thunk and then a larger one as both parts of the corpse fell to the ground.

"It's a pity, really. She was an excellent healer." The Kyrul sighed and then looked at the two children as his Knives came to stand behind them. "You've given me quite a chase, girl... and your devoted brother, too; yes, I can see the resemblance. I saw it that first night, boy, when you brought refreshment while I took your darling sister; did you think I was blind? Your hope shone like a star that night, and for all the months since then!" Reaching out, he patted Ebon on the head, like a master petting a loyal hound. "I thought, what wonderful sport, to let you plot and plan, and see how far you might get! Then she brought the news," and he gestured towards Jisecor's rapidly-cooling body, "and I couldn't let the game go much longer. We took the old woman first."

"Matron?" asked Azure with a whimper.

"Yes, a tough old woman, finally pushed to her limits. She reminded me of my brother in that regard." He chuckled evilly at the memory. "But she couldn't last long, and gave up everything. From there, it was easy to draw you into my trap." With a sigh, the Kyrul dropped to one knee, now nearly eye-level to Azure, and level with Ebon. "I almost wish I didn't have to kill you both."

"You don't!" Ebon's voice was raw with need, the need to survive, for Azure to survive. "We won't tell anyone. On our lives, we swear it! Please!" He saw something change in the Kyrul's expression then, a tenderness that wasn't there before. The tyrant reached out a hand and gently stroked Azure's cheek. Hope welled in Ebon's heart and his voice cracked as he spoke. "We won't betray your secret. Will you spare us?"

The tableau held frozen for a moment, and then the Kyrul withdrew his hand and stood up. Looking down, he smirked at Ebon. "No."

Hope crashed within Ebon's heart, replaced with despair as Azure floated up, held in the one Knigr's mental grip while the Kyrul drew the dagger from his sash. With a cruel smile, he plunged the blade into the girl's gut, slicing up before pulling back as the telekinetic hold released her to collapse beside her brother.

"e-ebon...." Then the life left her eyes.

Still on his knees, staring down at his sister lying dead, Ebon closed his eyes tight against the world. A wordless scream of pain burst from his throat as his mind's eye faded to white and he was lost.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 27, 2015 1:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Part V - Hunted

Something akin to ecstasy filled the Kyrul's face as the boy's despair and pain flooded through him, and he drank it up like the finest wine. It had been a fine evening and he was sated on the recipe of betrayal, fear, and raw emotional agony, savoring it like a well-cooked meal. Turning back towards his palace, he gestured to the Knives behind him. "Bring the boy. We'll make an example of him."

Then he felt the pain melt away, replaced by something else. Rage.

A rushing sound came from behind, followed by choked gasps and heavy, metallic thuds even as he spun around to see what had happened. Both of the Silver Knives, his personal guard, elite among their ranks, lay in crumpled heaps at opposite sides of the courtyards. Meanwhile, the boy remained where he was, kneeling, head bowed. Then, slowly, he looked up.

Those eyes that had been blackest shadow now blazed with a hot, white glow that flooded the Kyrul's vision. Desperately he tried to summon his gifts, to raise some sort of defense as the field of white became edged with red, a blood-red miasma seeping into his mind's eye until it was all he could see.

His dying scream was cut off by a crunch of bone.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 27, 2015 2:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ebon returned to himself to find he was being shaken gently by the shoulders. "Come, boy. The Knives will soon come, and you should not be here when they arrive." Strong arms lifted him to his feet, but even in his daze a thought penetrated and he gave a frantic glance all around the courtyard. His gaze fell first upon the Kyrul's corpse, its face unrecognizable amid a bloody mass of flesh and crushed bone, and then he spied where his sister had lain. The sight of Azure's small form cradled in someone's arms, being bundled in linens, set him scrabbling to reach her but he was held fast. "She will be treated with respect, but we must away. Now!"

Without another word, Ebon turned and followed the man, too numb to think of resisting. They dashed through the alleys, keeping to the shadows whenever possible and trusting to swiftness whenever not. Through it all, the man muttered a continuous, droning chant under his breath.

Finally they stopped at a small home, little more than a hovel really. Still droning, the stranger opened the door and motioned Ebon inside before following. Blinking, the boy watched as he took up a stance in the middle of the room, and as his chanting rose slightly, a soft reddish glow lined the edges of the door and curtained windows. Only once it had faded away did the man turn and regard Ebon with a smile. "There. We're safe from prying eyes--or prying thoughts--within these walls." Crouching low, he reached out to lay a hand gently on Ebon's shoulder. "I am sorry for your loss tonight, lad"

"What?" Still too stunned to really comprehend everything that had happened, the boy just looked at him. Then the truth struck Ebon hard, and he remembered. "A-" A sob wracked his shoulders. "Azure! He killed her, he..." Tears welled up in those dark eyes, tears of pain, of loss, of despair. The same strong arms from before now wrapped around him, drawing him close in a comforting embrace as he wept.

It felt like an eternity--though in fact the time candle had dropped only a mark and a half--before Ebon's flow of tears stemmed, and he drew away from the stranger, who released him without comment. Wiping his nose with the back of one hand, he regarded the man warily, for all that he'd been crying in those arms moments before. "Who are you?" A heart beat once. "How can we be safe? They'll find us!"

"Be still, lad." The man gave his guest a warm, open smile that Ebon met with a hesitant one of his own. "The people here know me as Yar, simple laborer for hire, and not a particularly expensive one at that. I was named Astenyar by my parents, and you may call me such if you wish. As to your second question, I've had years to attune myself to this place, to make it my well of power and shape the wards that shield us. Without knowing exactly what to look for, even the strongest among the elite would simply skim over my home in their searches. And they will be searching, believe me." Astenyar's expression grew more somber, more grim. "You slew the Kyrul, and his mental death cry must have shaken every mind in the Palace to its core. Oh, yes. They will be hunting you."


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2016 1:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Palace was in turmoil. With the Kyrul's death, factions within the ruling caste seized the opportunity to settle old scores, to advance a rung or two up the proverbial ladder. It was dark and bloody, and the way of things when a ruler met an untimely end. In such a land as this, the veneer of civilization could be thin indeed. By the next evening, many would lie on the killing floor, and the realm would have a new master.

A young woman crept through the Palace passageways, keeping to the shadows and avoiding the echoes of battle and pain. Though a royal cousin, she held no ambitions for rule herself; she preferred the comforts of nobility without the pressures of rule. That did not, however, prevent others from seeing her as a target for manipulation. Or elimination.

She would much rather be the manipulator--or the eliminator.

Besides, she had set herself a task. The images from her kinsman's death sending resonated in her mind's eye. While others vied for position, she would seek out his murderer and bring him back for justice, or for vengeance. In the Palace, the two were often held as the same, and it would set her in good stead with whoever came out on top this night.

If only she could make sense of the images that burned behind her eyes. A face, a young face that seemed somehow familiar, but the eyes were just empty hollows... no, she realized, not empty. Black. A wicked smile spread across her face. "The pretty boy."

Now she knew her prey, and he would know her. "Not so broken anymore? Perhaps there will be time to play before your homecoming, little Ebon."

* * *

Far away, beyond the city, someone else had sensed the Kyrul's final thoughts. Gathering his gear, he dropped from the branches in which he crouched, landing softly on his feet. "The Kyrul is dead." Around him, the man's comrades stopped what they were doing and turned to look. "I want the one that killed him. Let's move!"


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 24, 2017 11:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Out of the way! Move!" The bellicose cry scattered most of the people crowding the city street. Those who didn't react quickly found themselves brutally shoved aside--if not slammed hard into a wall--as soldiers charged past. Up ahead, the sounds of battle rang in the air, clashing metal and agonized screams.

For the past two weeks, the bloodletting had raged throughout the city in the wake of the former Kyrul's assassination. A new ruler had taken the Palace, but his reign was not yet unchallenged, despite many of the noble families swearing fealty.

Many, but not all. Of those that did, more than a few were dealing under the table as well as upon it.

Yar shook his head as he watched the contingent of guardsmen pass, a figure in silver-plated armor at their head. Once they had moved on, he shouldered his crate of goods and continued on his way to market. It was a hefty load, an order of hammered metal servingware that he was delivering for a tinker who paid fairly. Carts and steeds were expensive, after all. Besides, it gave him an excuse to take his time loading and unloading the goods, and he used that time well. Listening, and learning... and looking for the right connections to get his youthful charge to safety.

"Hello there, big boy!" It was Old Feenah, the fruitseller who hired him now and then to haul her handcart. "I see Tinker Arron has you hard at work. When you're done with that delivery, stop by my cart on your way back. I've got some fresh eska melons in today! I'll give you a good price, maybe even throw in an extra to share."

"Well, I may come by at that!" Though he smiled, Yar's mind was clouded. Why did she mention sharing? While it was true that young Ebon's presence at his home required more food than a man alone might need, he'd gone to great lengths to spread his purchases around, never buying too much at any given stall or cart. She couldn't have known.

Could she?

No, he mused. Feenah was old and her faculties weren't what they had once been. She was sharp as a knife when it came to barter and bargaining, but otherwise she was not so observant. The woman had a good heart, though; he almost wished he could confide in her, but that would put himself, Ebon, and Feenah herself at risk.

Besides, he realized, there was a simpler explanation. The old woman did love playing matchmaker, and had been trying to get him together with more than a few pretties over the years. He expected that, when he stopped by again, she would mention some lovely who enjoyed a ripe eska melon, and perhaps he might want to share some over breakfast.

Once more he shook his head, as he reached the cafe where Arron had told him to deliver the dishware. Ebon would enjoy some eska with his porridge, at least.

Not far away, one of the cafe patrons turned her gaze his way and smiled. It was an enticing smile, and Yar felt his heart skip. He dared not respond, though; after all, he was a simple laborer making a delivery. So he averted his eyes, keeping them focused ahead and down, a lowborn man who knew his place among his betters.

Meanwhile, the woman watched him go, and once he was out of sight, her enticing smile curled into a smirk. The image of a hollow-eyed youth lurked in the back of her mind...

...and for just an instant, she'd sensed it in that carryman's mind as well. The hunt would soon be on again.


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 21, 2017 7:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sometimes, over the month since he had escaped the Palace (since Azure was murdered, a voice in the back of his awareness reminded him), Ebon felt like a pet in a pillowed cage.

He was grateful for Astenyar's protection, of course, and it was much more comfortable than his hard cot in the Palace slave barracks. The man would tell him stories in the evenings, too, tales of lands beyond the great ocean: the Deep Forest, the faerie glens of Lorin, the sands of the Khasin where the desert dwarves lived; stories of the great cities, ancient Terbann, dark Murian, and Jahava, the City of Wings; and he would speak of his own homeland, Sorcais, the realm of the mages ruled by the Lords Sorcere.

Ebon wasn't sure that he believed any of them, of course. Faerie-kin and dwarves were creatures of forgotten legend, barely remembered by the elders in the rural lands. And magic? Well, he'd seen numerous displays of power from nobles and Knives, but did the man truly expect him to accept great lords calling down lightning or summoning elemental creatures?

So cynical for one so young, Astenyar had told him, though without rancor.

So naive for one so worldly, Ebon had replied in matching tone.

They did get along well, the lad thought as he read--or rather, skimmed over--one of his rescuer's secret trove of books. Though he had learned a smattering of words in his fifteen years, books were not readily available to the Palace slaves. Still, he was an eager learner, and Astenyar encouraged him to study.

So lost within the pages was he that he almost missed the warning glow from the small mirror hanging above the hearth. Dark eyes widened as he stared at it, watching the silvered surface as his host's image appeared within. "Danger, Ebon!" Astenyar's expression was unreadable, but there was certainly an edge of tension in his voice. "Get out of there. Now! They're coming!"


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PostPosted: Sun May 13, 2018 5:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As he hurried through the bustling streets, Astenyar's mind raced back over the past few days. How had the Knives caught on to him? Where did he slip up? More importantly, did his warning get through to young Ebon? He trusted his skill in sorcery, but his strength came from the world around him, drawn through his place of power, and those connections could be disrupted.

"There he goes!" The harsh voice rang through the air, and he risked a glance back to see four Knives round a corner, two blocks behind him. Too close, to him and to his home. He had to gain the lad as much time as possible, and so he raised a hand and spoke a harsh word of command. Lightning leapt from his fingertips, arcing through the air to strike the Knives. One of them caught the attack in his face, leaving his skin blackened and his eyes melted, while another went down and did not rise again. The other two, however, climbed to their feet and resumed the chase.

Astenyar ducked down a side alley and came out onto another street, turning back to lead his pursuers further away from his home. He knew his fate was inevitable, that sooner or later the Knives would catch him, but he was determined to gain Ebon as much time as possible to get away.

Furthermore, the mage was not going to go down easily.

A scream of fear cut through the air ahead of him, and the crowd parted to reveal another gang of Knives bearing down on him. “Not that way, then,†he muttered softly, but when he turned to try a different route, he saw the two survivors of his earlier lightning bolt emerge from the alleyway. Despite the danger, despite encroaching death, Astenyar found himself smiling, though it was a grim smile indeed. “So be it.â€

Lifting his arms in both directions, the mage uttered a command word that unleashed a volley of glowing darts upon the Knives, projectiles that burst upon contact. Several went down, but there were more beyond them, moving in from all sides now. Astenyar whispered a brief chant.

* * *

In the center of the hovel where Astenyar and Ebon lived, the firepit suddenly sprang to life, an eerie blue-green flame rising from within. Hearing the sound as he gathered his meager possessions, Ebon poked his head out from behind the curtain shielding his cot. He saw the flames, and he knew he was out of time.

* * *

In the distant street, Astenyar had crafted a shield of magic, a blue dome that kept his enemies at bay. It was a stopgap measure at best, and already the shield was weakening as the Knives hurled their minds’ powers against it without relent. Still, it would hold long enough to draw them close, and for him to do what he must.

Finally it was time. He closed his eyes and sent a final, silent message to Ebon. Run, boy! Run! Then he dropped the shielding dome and, as the Knives surged around him, spoke a single word.

A fireball of vivid blue flames erupted in the street, incinerating abandoned market stalls and carts, melting armor and searing flesh until there was little remaining but bone and ashes.

* * *

At that same moment, some distance away, an unassuming little house exploded with the same blue-white flames, reducing it to rubble and blackened ruins. "Was there anyone inside?" asked one of the folk who gathered around, staring in awe.

"If anyone was in there," replied one of her companions, "they're dead,"


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2018 12:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Several blocks away, Ebon turned as he heard the explosions, and saw twin gouts of blue fire rising above the rooftops. "Astenyar." There was no time for sorrows, however; the two of them had planned for this possibility, and haste was key.

If you must go without me, if I cannot reach my contacts with the Feranor, the man had told him, then leave the city, make for the forests to the east. Lay low at night, and move in the day when the streets are crowded. The thoughts of those around you will provide shelter, even as their movements hide you from prying eyes. Once you have left Tar-Kyrul, it is my hope that the Free Men will find you… but no matter what else, continue your training. Focus, learn your strengths and build on them, and you will reach greatness.

So he moved through the milling crowds, carrying with him only a simple sack. Within that sack were a few clothes, a doll of a horse that Astenyar had given him, and some dried fruit and jerky to last a few days. If he hadn't won his way out of the city by then, Ebon knew that food would be the least of his concerns.

At least he was in decent shape, physically speaking. That was something the man had insisted upon. "Strength of body, strength of mind," he''d said repeatedly while drilling Ebon through daily exercises, and indeed it had been no worse than some of the labors he had endured in the Palace.

The crowd jostled him as it passed by, but Ebon kept his head low, playing the meek and lowly peon to anyone who gave him a second glance. So passed the day, with night bringing shelter in the corner of a tavern’s 'common room that cost him what few coins he possessed and an evening washing dishes into the bargain.

By the time morning's light was tinting the sky, he had scrounged a meager breakfast and was on his way once more. Tar-Kyrul was a very large city, and he had some difficulty keeping his bearings. All he could think was to head east, towards the forests as Astenyar had instructed him. By mid-day he was through the ramshackle homes of the lower castes and venturing into the merchant districts. This would be trickier, since he had to seem like he belonged there, but here his years as a Palace slave served his needs well. He carried himself like a lowly errand-boy, with the urgency of one who knows a beating--or worse--would be waiting if he failed in his tasks.

At one point a man called out to him from a pottery storefront. "You there! Boy!" Ebon froze in place, struggling and barely succeeding at keeping panic out of his expression and thoughts. "Are you on a task for anyone? Answer true!"

Even as he tried to spin a convincing falsehood, Ebon found himself compelled to speak truthfully. "No, lord."

"Good! My houseboy has fallen ill, and I need someone to work in my shop while I tend to my customers. Today you will work for me." It was clearly not a request, and even if it had been, how could Ebon have said no? Thus he spent the afternoon hours sweeping, straightening, and hefting loads of crockery into waiting carts for delivery. It was not light work, but he took advantage to practice his gifts, using his psionic talent to ease the burden of weighty loads or surreptitiously steady a pile of mugs before they toppled. When the sun was sinking low, the shopkeep--who had barely said a word to him the whole time--grunted and directed Ebon to a plate of scraps from his dinner, and a mug of surprisingly cool water. "You did well, boy. Now once you’ve finished that, go so I can lock up for the night."

As the sun sank below the horizon, he went down into the stairwell behind the closed-up shop, crouching behind some barrels out of sight to get some rest. It had been a long day.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2018 12:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Part VI - Reunion

"Brother?" Azure's voice led Ebon to turn, and he saw her standing there. They were both in a woodland clearing, with the sun high in a cloudless blue sky, and somewhere in the distance a bird was singing. She looked him, a smile bright upon her face. "It's good to see you."

"Where are we?"

His sister giggled at the question. "Is that really the first thing you have to say?"

For a moment he stood there, blinking,m and then he smiled back at her. "I’ve missed you." It was Azure, he could feel it, and yet how could it be? Then he knew. "This is a dream."

"Yes," she replied with a nod, "it's a dream. I'm sorry."

"Don’t be. I"m not." One step, then another, and then he reached out to embrace her. They stood there, hugging each other for some time before he spoke again. "I'm happy to see you, even if I'm just imagining it."

Azure pulled away, looking up at him with a serious expression. "Are you? Imagining me, I mean."

The question gave Ebon pause, his dark eyes blinking once, twice. "I must be. You’re.... Dead." She gave a sad nod in response. "So why are you here now, if I'm not conjuring you from dream stuff? How else can you be here?"

"To warn you. Ebon, open your mind, and wake up!"

* * *

The night was dark, with no moon in sight, but Ebon's eyes were darker still as they sprang open. Silent, unmoving, he simply listened to the hush all around. Yet the night, though quiet, was not entirely still. Something at the edges of his perception set the fine hairs at the nape of his neck on end.

Someone was out there.
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2018 3:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quickly Ebon gathered up his sack and rushed to the top of the steps, pausing there to glance up and down the alley. He couldn't see anyone, couldn't hear anyone, and yet... somehow he knew they were there. Two figures moving approaching, one from either direction, and a third nearby. Just at the edge of his perception.

Why couldn't he see them?

Because they're shrouding my senses, he realized, as his skin tingled with sudden fright. He closed his eyes, struggling to contain the fear, to calm himself and find his strength as Astenyar had instructed him.

"Ebon," came a voice from the shadows, purring like a cat who has cornered its prey. "Pretty boy."

Upon hearing those words, all color drained from Ebon's face, leaving him as pale as the dead. Only one person had ever referred to him that way. "Ulara."

She stepped into view, lips curled into a smirk of wicked delight. As ever, she moved with the sinuous grace of a serpent, though her attire was far more subdued than it had been on that night years before. "You remember me! I am truly touched!" She reached out to him with both hands, almost entreating. "Do you remember how good it felt? My body against yoirs, skin upon skin?"

"...i remember..." Jet black eyes blinked, and the haunted expression on Ebon's face gave was to steely determination. "You used me, forced yourself on me! Treated me like your toy... aagh!" His words choked off mid-sentence as an invisible hand seemed to clamp around his throat.

"You are my toy, little boy! Mine to play with! Mine to command!" Ulara closed her right hand into a fist, and Ebon felt the force at his neck tightening. "You murdered the Kyrul, my kinsman!" Their eyes met, and triumph glimmered in hers. "I should thank you for that. I came through the purges stronger, and once I proved to the new Kyrul that I had no desire for his throne, I was able to secure a place in the court on my own merits, free of my uncle's shortsightedness or the shame of my father. So you have my thanks, Ebon... and believe me, I intend to enjoy rewarding you. You may even come to enjoy it as well... not that it matters." The tip of her tongue snaked across her lips. "Boys, hold him."

Even as she spoke, Ebon felt an almost-imperceptible shift in his mind, and then two men appeared, their shining chain tunics suddenly rustling in the moonlight. One of them turned to Ulara with a grin. "Can we get turns with him as well, mistress?"

"Why not?" she replied with a casual shrug. "Just be sure not to damage him too much for my pleasure."

The full truth of their intentions struck Ebon hard in that instant, and he writhed and twisted, unable to break the telekinetic hold on his throat. He closed his eyes, and within his mind, he heard his sister's quiet voice, calling to him. Open your mind, Ebon! Open!
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2018 4:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Then Ebon's eyes opened again, pinpoints of light burning like stars in his sockets. Ulara gasped as they stared back at her, and suddenly her mental grip on his throat was broken, the backlash sending needles of pain through her skull. "Aaah! Get him!"

Both of the Knives sprang into action, one of them striking q fighting pose as shimmering blades of psionic force sprouted from his arms while the other drew a sword and faded from sight once more. Ebon ducked beneath his more visible foe's attack, more out of reflex than thought, and then rolled as he sensed the physicality of the other man moving to strike. His awareness reached out and grabbed hold of his shrouded opponent, breaking the man's concentration on hiding himself. He suddenly reappeared in a reverse fade, hanging in mid-air for a moment before flying backwards, hard into the shop wall.

Ebon was looking desperately for an escape when suddenly a hazy mass appeared in his mind, approaching from behind. Turning, he caught a volley of gravel in the face, barely able to close his eyes before being blinded. Then a force blade cut into his shoulder, and he screamed in pain. Blood red tinged the edges of his vision for a moment and he just lashed out.

Barrels and crates throughout the alley rose from the ground and hurtled to and fro, shattering against side walls to spill their contents across the pavestones. Those selfsame contents joined in the chaos, mixing with wooden chips and loose stones pulled into the air. The Knife with the mind blades raised his arms and his weapons expanded into a shield, protecting him while at the same time anchoring him firmly to the ground. Ulara, warding off what she could with her own talents, managed to take shelter with him, eyes wide as platters in shock.

The other Knife wasn't so lucky. Stealth was useless in such chaos, and as he struggled to reach his comrade, the barrage of broken crates, shards of pottery, and rubble pummeled him mercilessly. He dropped to his knees, blood streaming from a myriad array of cuts on his face, and then a brick soared through the air to smash the man's nose into the back of his skull.

Screams sounded from the streets beyond the alley, but nobody dared approach the fight while the psi storm raged within the alley. Finally, though, it settled, leaving the scene looking like a tornado had passed through. For several seconds, the silence was broken only by the heavy panting of Ebon's breath as he stood there, hunched over with both hands on his knees.

As her servant dropped his mental shield, Ulara peered across at Ebon and then smirked, before suddenly glancing up, towards the rooftops. "We have to go. Now! Take him!" She turned and started towards the street while the Knife approached Ebon, psionic force extending into bands that wrapped around the youth, holding him fast.

"Gkk!" Hearing the unexpected sound, Ulara spun around to see her man and Ebon standing facing each other. The Knife still held his prey tightly, but his wide-eyed expression and gaping mouth made it clear that not all was well with him, while Ebon's face held a fierce, almost feral look. Then there was a crack and the Knife's neck just crumpled while his mental grip on Ebon vanished instantly before he crumpled to the ground.

The young man turned and looked at Ulara with those dark eyes of his, and an almost-predatory smile twisted his face. He took a step forward.

Ulara was not fool enough not to recognize when she was outmatched. She turned and ran.

For his part, Ebon stood there for a moment, watching her go, and then he gathered up the sack that he'd dropped when the encounter began and swiftly moved off in the opposite direction.

* * *

As the lad stepped out of the alley and hurried away, a hooded figure leaned out from the roof's edge above the alleyway. "The boy has strength, and the wit to know when to choose his battles and when to abandon them. Good." Then he dropped over the side, flipping in the air to land deftly on his feet, and headed after Ebon.
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