Legends of Cobalt

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March of the Dead

“Our mission is to kill Duke Iliya Sofka. He has failed his people. It is time for change. The people need a leader who serves them,” Serephina declared.

“We thought we succeeded in assassinating him a few years ago. I watched Master Orryn sever Sofka’s carotid myself. Three days later, the White Guard raided us. They captured Master Orryn. That bastard watched as a team of horses ripped Master Orryn limb from limb.” Katsu slammed a fist on the table. “One of our initiates tried to help him. The guards hauled her away too and we haven’t seen her since.”

Serephina placed her small hand on Katus’s and relaxed his fist. “We have lost many brothers and sisters in our time here. Often we thought we had won, to discover our failure days later. There is some force keeping Sofka alive that we can’t beat.”

“In my time wandering the world, I have found you can not kill something that is already dead,” Wyanet replied.

Bucephalus added, “Not without the aid of the gods or powerful magics.”

Aramil dropped his chair back to its proper number of legs. “You mean the old bastard is already dead?”

I thumbed through the extensive stack of papers Serephina had given us. “Do you know anything about Sofka’s daughter?”

Althaea frowned, “He doesn’t have a daughter.”

“We have watched the palace for years. We have never seen a child belonging to the Duke,” Serephina replied.

“Hees wife died feefteen years ago,” Fayaad said. “She never bore a child. Many thought her eenfertile.”

Phebes interjected, “His daughter wasn’t born through his wife. He adopted her after his father died.”

“She’s the one we are after.” Bucephalus clenched and unclenched his fist. “We don’t care about the duke.”

“The duke’s daughter is the true cause of this sickness,” Wyanet stated. “We came to kill her.”

The assassin acolytes shifted in their seats and backed away from the table.

“You want to kill a child,” Katsu accused.

“I did not realise the murdering of children was an issue for goblin-kin.”

“One of us has publicly murdered someone, and it’s not the one with goblin blood.”

I extended my arm across Wyanet’s chest. Serephina pounded a fist on the table.

“Enough! We are not enemies here!”

“Yes, master.” The assassin acolytes bowed their heads.

“Why do you hunt this girl?” Serephina steepled her fingers in front of her face.

“The girl is not mortal,” Wyanet replied. “I do not know of a name in my language or yours that can describe her. She is a perversion of life.”

Bucephalus rolled his eyes. “She’s a vampire.”

“How is that possible?” Serephina looked at Bucephalus. “The Inquisition eradicated the curse of vampirism centuries ago.”

“There are many places the combined authorities of mortal empires and the Cardinal Conclave do not reach. It is possible a vampire hid away in one of our blind spots. The Ravagers still roam the plains, it is also possible they created the curse anew.”

“Is it possible Sofka is a Vampire as well?” Katsu asked.

“It’s possible,” I nodded. “Nellie could have turned him or whoever their greater master is.”

Katsu waved away my statement. “A vampire is tough enough to believe, I doubt a vampire lord escaped everyone’s notice.”

“We are out of our depth, Katsu.” Althaea interjected, “You watched master Orryn kill Sofka yourself, but he still lives. Perhaps it would be better for us to take any information we are given as plausible.”

“There must be something else we missed.”

“I have much to discuss with my acolytes,” Serephina interrupted. “You are welcome to our home as you like. Don’t leave the property, we will tell you what we decided when we are done.”

***

We explored the ransacked inn. I followed a creaky narrow staircase to the roof. My feet thudded across the heavy wood. The rain had stopped and a thin fog from the bay replaced it. A small shed with a heavy lock stood beside the roof access trapdoor. Rows of kneehigh planter boxes ran the length of the roof. A waist-high brick wall enclosed the entire space. I walked along the barren planters and leaned against the wall facing north.

“Do you think we’re doing the right thing?” Phebes asked from behind me. “I know helping people is a good thing to do and all, but are we the right people to do this?” What qualifies us? Just because we know how to fight, doesn’t mean we should go looking for them. What is Ceph is right? What if we all die here? We’re the only ones who know what’s happening. Maybe we should have gone to the Conclave like Ceph said. Wouldn’t an army of the gods be better for this?”

I stared at the rooftops that stretched out to the city’s curtain wall. “I don’t know. I didn’t want to come here. I don’t even want to be labelled a hero. I want a quiet life in a small cottage hidden in the forest, but Wyanet saved me and I still feel like I owe her.”

Phebes leaned against the wall beside me. “We could leave together. I don’t think our friends would argue.” She put her hand on mine. “We could do whatever we wanted. Go wherever we want to, and never have to worry about doing things we don’t want to. It could be you and I, us against the world.” 

“I can’t.” I pulled my hand back. The soft glow of lamplight glittered on the other side of the curtain wall. “Wyanet and I have been through a lot together. She still needs my help. I can’t abandon her yet.”

“It’s natural to have doubts in the face of death.”

Phebes and I jumped at the sound of Althaea’s voice.

I spun around. “How did you get up here without one of us hearing you?”

“You were distracted.” Althaea sat on the edge of one of the planters. “And I am an assassin, remember. You’re doubting your abilities. I don’t blame you. We face impossible odds and all of our futures are unclear.”

The clouds above our heads began to churn. 

“When Aramil and I left our home beneath the sea, we were terrified of what might happen to us. Our future was uncertain then as it is now, but we trust each other and we trust our friends. We don’t know what the future holds, but we face everything together. If we succeed, we succeed together.” Althaea put a hand on each of our shoulders. “If we fail, we do that together too. When we stand beside our friends and loved ones, regardless of how frightened we are, we grow and get stronger.”

The boiling clouds over our heads glowed with a sickly pale green light. Thunder shook our bones. A vortex of swirling green-glowing clouds spiralled to the sky from the centre of the city. Moans and lamentations of the dead filled the city to a deafening roar. Thousands of spectres descended from the clouds and lifted themselves from beneath the cobbled streets. The sea of ghosts formed a ghastly procession and marched toward the city keep.

I ducked beneath the wall. “What’s happening?”

Phebes dove between the planters. “Are we safe?”

“We’re safe,” Althaea leaned against the wall and watched the ghosts on their journey. “As far as I am aware, the parade has never harmed any of the living.”

“What are they?” Phebes got back to her feet and stood beside Althaea.

“We call it the parade of phantasms.”

I watched the spectre of a crying boy run along the street below. “Why are they here?” 

Althaea shrugged, “No one knows. Every night they gather and march to the keep. The legend is that they gather to hunt whatever ended their lives.”

“They have a creepy beauty to them,” Phebes replied.     

 “With your help,” Serephina appeared at my elbow, “They will soon find rest.”

The story will continue, September 24th,  2020.

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