Dragon of the East - Arc 3, Prologue

  • Okan-Zeeus

    ~ ~ ~

    Ten years ago…

    Strong winds blew in my eyes. I knelt crouched in the shallows of a bog, hidden among cattails and tall grass. Thick dark clouds drifted fast overhead, swallowing the evening sun. A great storm would soon arrive; perfect cover for assassins and their work.

    A storm… A storm would be useful…                                                               

    “What are your thoughts, Okan?” a voice whispered beside me.

    Yes… Rain to hamper sight, noise to muffle movement. Milah would be easier to conceal. And should our child emerge from its egg… I have never seen a hatchling cry in the rain. A storm would be a blessing.


    One more week…


    I snapped out of my trance and turned to the voice. Ixtha-Kai’s red eyes were like two glistening moons, staring through me. He was an Argonian of narrow face and broad shoulder, skin covered in white and black-speckled scales.

    “It looks like we have two storm clouds brewing, Zol,” he said.

    Zollassa leaned over Kai’s shoulder. “Okan, what is stealing your focus?”

    I snarled softly and faced the wind again.

    “Forgive me. Many things on my mind. I will block out the noise.”               

    A thatch hut stood in the middle of the swamp, boxlike and double-decked, raised above the water on wooden legs. There was a Naga on the outer walkway, armed but not armored, the closest thing to a threat. The snake-like man watched the skies, unwary of the three hooded assassins in dark-green jerkins, watching him.

    “Are you sure you’re up for this?” Zollassa asked me. A silvery rustle of rain began to fall.

    I retorted with a scowl. “We’re killing noncombatants, not the king of Black Marsh.”

    “You’re unfocused,” Kai said. “Take a rest, brother. Stay with Zol. I can clear the building alone.”

    “I’m not inept,” I hissed. “We’ll continue as planned.”

    Kai’s eyes left me and set toward the hut. He knew I had a child on the way. To him, perhaps, I was simply an anxious father-to-be, filled with distractions.

    “Egg-siblings look after each other,” he said.

    I sighed. Kai and Zol were not my egg-siblings, but they may as well have been. I knew them better than any other soul in these marshlands. We were killers trained and raised together, deadly in skill and strong in trust. Those who heard our name embraced the void.

    We were the Zanxhu-Loh, loyal elites to the An-Xileel.                                                       

    Or rather… they were loyal.

    One more week…

    As the pouring rain became a roar of noise, Kai and I slithered into the murky swamp and swam for our marks. Zol remained on watch outside the premises. My task was to clear the main floor, while Kai would take the upper level. Our targets were conspirators in the Organism assassinations, members of a now known traitor organization. We expected little resistance, a job strictly by the numbers.

    Sounds of thunder rumbled in the distance. The Naga remained outside, unbothered by the ferocious weather breaking over. Sliding through the mire like an eel, I stopped at the walkway on the other side of the hut and climbed up onto its wooden deck, showered by the rain. As I rounded a corner, I barely heard the splash as the Naga fell into the swamp. Zol’s bow killed surely, even in a thunderstorm.

    I approached the door, hearing footsteps creak inside. Someone was about to open it. I reached for one of my swords and drew it with care, breathing slowly, evenly.

    Let this be over quick…

    A mud-brown Argonian stepped into the doorway. He was aged with a round head, skin toughened beneath his chin. I could sense nervous tension behind a masking air of calm. Callouses on his fingers bespoke a man who worked with his hands. Was he a farmer? A retired soldier? He called the name of the Naga, to have him come inside. I stood up.

    The man turned and saw me through the rain with an icy look of terror.       

    “The An-Xileel demand your deaths,” I declared. My blade pierced his heart.       

    I threw the dead Argonian into the hut. He landed on the wood floor with a loud wallop. There were three others inside the scantly lit room. They scattered, knocking over furniture as they jumped to their feet and ran for windows. A throwing knife from my belt met the throat of a woman trying to escape. She collapsed against a wall, grasping at the metal protruding from her neck. Another man shouted something and grabbed a spear sitting atop a mantle.

    He was not trained in the weapon’s use; I could see it the moment he tried to stab me. I stepped aside and swept my sword in a rising arc through the spear, severing the tip. A worn wooden shaft against a blade of quicksilver? There was never any contest. I knocked away another futile blow from the broken shaft and swung hard. The man fell headless.

    The last Argonian managed to flee through a window. An arrow from Zol’s bow met him as he tried to jump into the water. I heard no swimming, only the rain.

    There were more sounds of a struggle upstairs, shoes thumping on wood. I stepped over the headless body at my feet. Blood leaked through cracks in the floor into the sloshing swamp. The woman with the knife in her throat was still dying, lying on her belly. A flash of lightning flickered through the windows. As I stepped toward her, she gasped for a breath that refused to come. Her hand reached out and grabbed the closest thing in her reach. Blood smeared my ankle.

    “Please… No…”                                                                                                                    

    I plunged my sword down through the woman’s chest, point stopping on wood. My hands clutched the pommel in a white-knuckle grip. I took one last look into her eyes and shut mine, trying to banish the image from my mind. As always, I could not. Her face would join the rest in my nightmares.

    “Find peace in your next life,” I whispered. Plucking up my blade, I stopped and stared at the carnage.

    Some assassins take pleasure in their work. They give themselves over to the thrill of killing, becoming little more than savages, creatures craving flesh and blood. Others, as I, try to hold on to the reasons why we kill. In this vocation, where every deed grabs hold to rend apart your sanity, you have to separate who you are from the things you do.

    I have never been good at that.                                                           

    There was a sudden scrape, the sound of something heavy being pushed on the floor. I spun around. It had come from a small storage room filled with barrels. Behind one, I glimpsed the tip of a tail receding. It was small. Something twisted in my chest.

    A hatchling…

    Slowly I crept into the crowded room. The walls of the hut seemed to shift and moan like a creature in pain as storm winds blew against it. I cast aside one of the barrels with a forceful shove, spilling dried fruit on the floor. A young Argonian boy shriveled back with a yelp.

    The hatchling wore ragged clothes, covering the grey scales of his legs and chest. A mop of black spines dressed his head, green eyes wide and terrified. I glared down at him, clutching my sword.

    Why must it always be a child?                                                          

    I hated everything that I was. I hated the killing, I hated the An-Xileel, I hated their sense of justice. Yet I still followed orders. Even in these days, as I plotted my desertion, I did as I was told.

    I can’t protect him. Kai and Zol would never be so lenient. If he tried to escape, they would catch him. And if they discovered I let him go… Xhuth!

    My anger rose as I battled my mind.  

    What have these people truly done to deserve death?        

    It lashed widely at anything and everything, even the hatchling.

    Why couldn’t you stay hidden from me!? Why are you making me do this!?

    “Okan-Zeeus!” Kai suddenly spoke from a ladder further back. “Have you cleared the floor?”

    I gazed long and hard at the quailing, confused hatchling. More thunder rumbled.

    “Yes,” I called in reply.

    “Come then. There’s something up here you should see.”        

    Slowly I sheathed my blade. You get one chance, I thought to the boy. If the others find you, you’re dead. I walked out of the room, glancing back one last time. The hatchling’s demeanor had suddenly changed. What did I see in his eyes? It looked like hatred.

    I climbed a ladder to the upper floor of the hut, where Kai was waiting. The room above appeared to be a study. There were baskets and bowls filled with alchemy ingredients, alongside an impressively large laboratory. Acidic scents rose from the equipment.

    Ixtha-Kai walked up beside me. He motioned to a miniature tree at the back of the room, sitting on a table in a pot of soil. It had a thick rounded trunk and slender leaves growing on its tiny branches. The tree was near a window, slid to the side out of view, while raindrops battered against the shutter. More lightning flashed.

    I could not bring myself to approach the tree. The shock was too great.

    “Is that… a Hist?” I whispered.

    “A Hist sapling,” Kai spoke quietly. “Sithis only knows how they got it.”

    “What the Iyorth is it doing here?”

    “They were experimenting on it.” Kai pointed to an elderly Argonian lying dead on the floor. “He had notes, but he burned them to ash before I could stop him. Whatever they were doing here, the knowledge is lost to us.”

    I hissed, glancing about the room. “Xhuth. We shouldn’t have been so quick to kill these people.”           

    “Okur himself gave the order. It’s not our problem.”

    “You say that so easily…”

    Mahei-Ru would never have sent us to kill these traitors; he would have wanted them captured. He and Okur always seemed at odds with each other, as far as their methods were concerned. Were they not working together toward the same goal? The safety and prosperity of Black Marsh? If the Saxhleel knew the truth about their leaders, perhaps they would not place so much faith in them.

    But I exaggerate. We were only one arm of the An-Xileel; a small branch, still trying to grow. The An-Xileel planted our seed almost fifteen years ago, placing an Ambassador and an Arch-Warden in charge of rearing a new generation of assassins.

    My eyes fell to the Hist and I thought of the hatchling. Would he know something? I almost went to see if he was still below. I took a careless step toward the ladder, then snapped to my senses.

    Fool. You’re planning to leave Black Marsh. Let the An-Xileel sort this mess. I felt morose in spite of myself. Had my sense of duty to the Saxhleel been so weak all along? Or had it simply corroded away over time? My calling was horrible, atrocious. Yet I fought this for as long as I could, on the hope an assassin could still have honor in this world.

    It was Milah who finally changed that. She changed everything.

    “How many were downstairs?” Kai asked.

    “Four,” I lied. “Three men and a woman.”

    Kai’s tail hung still as he studied me.

    “Was there something about them…?”

    “Tend to the Hist,” I said. “I’ll retrieve the heads this time.”

    “Okan, your scales look ashen.”

    “Then it is a trick of the light.”         

    Kai reached out to me as I turned around, resting a hand on my shoulder.  

    “Brother, I am not one you need be withdrawn toward. Is it your family? What troubles you?”

    I hesitated, trying to conceal a hunted look. The walls of the hut continued to moan. “Do you ever ask yourself,” I said, “what this is all for?”

    Kai replied, after some thought. “Every day.”                           

    “And have you found the answer?”

    “The answer is peace, Okan. You know that.”

    My eyes narrowed. “Killing in the shadows of our own marshlands… No reasons given… Not a single trial or hearing… How does this bring us peace?”

    “Peace for the Saxhleel. We aren’t meant to know it. Our lives serve a different purpose.”

    Kai answered the question he thought I had asked. His words sounded foreign for a man I knew as a hatchling. It struck me how little he and I spoke together like this, as if side-by-side was a chasm too wide for voices to travel. We used to be closer, swimming along the same river, yet somehow it felt as if we ended in different places.

    “The An-Xileel demand too much of us,” I whispered.                                                        

    “Our people need our strength for protection, against enemies within and without. Whatever happens, we must not fail them.”

    My eyes drifted to the dead man on the floor.                 

    “Did we fail these people?” I asked.

    Silence. I walked to the ladder.    

    “Yes,” Kai finally said. “We did.”      

    Back down on the main floor, I stepped over to the body of the woman and knelt beside it, drawing my sword. Once you smell the stench of death, you never forget it. I often let Kai or Zol handle cleanup, though head collecting was far from my least favorite task, if that were anything worth cheerfully mentioning. I saw that Kai had not followed behind me. With hesitation, I peered inside the storage room, almost afraid of what I would find.

    The hatchling was gone. One of the floorboards was missing, revealing a murky churn of mire below. I stared at it.

    Rain to hamper sight, noise to muffle movement.

    Incredible, I thought. The storm might have saved him.

    His life was in his own hands, now. There was nothing more I could do. I returned to the bodies, trying to distract myself as I did my bloody work.

    One more week…

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9 Comments   |   Fallout Night likes this.
  • Fallout Night
    Fallout Night   ·  November 15, 2016
    Wild guess here: Okan was and is a Shadowscale!
    • Ebonslayer
      Fallout Night
      Fallout Night
      Fallout Night
      Wild guess here: Okan was and is a Shadowscale!
        ·  November 16, 2016
      It's mentioned a few times before, no he is not a Shadowscale. He was an An-Xileel assassin, his organization is not Shadowscales but they carry on the idea. Don't worry, I was confused at first too.
      • Fallout Night
        Fallout Night
        It's mentioned a few times before, no he is not a Shadowscale. He was an An-Xileel assassin, his organization is not Shadowscales but they carry on the idea. Don't worry, I was confused at first too.
          ·  November 17, 2016
        Yeah I just figured that out after reading it again, but thanks anyway!
  • Okan-Zeeus
    Okan-Zeeus   ·  December 27, 2015
    Nope. Try again. 
  • Lazy
    Lazy   ·  December 26, 2015
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  December 24, 2015
    Why do I get that feeling we're gonna see more of that hatchling in Skyrim.
    Still killing kids are always the breaking point for an assassin.
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  December 24, 2015
    they will*
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  December 24, 2015
    Yes, a powerful piece here. Although rule #1 of the Villain's Survivor Guide: Never let a child live, for they spend their life honing their skill to defeat you.
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  December 24, 2015
    This chapter shows your skill at writing. Short, yet shows much emotion. Keep it up.