Adraan leant back, his glass of wine balancing carefully between two fingers on his right hand. It might seem simple to you. That's because you don't know that the grey-haired, middle-aged man held the glass by the base.
Then he relaxed his grip, and the wine glass fell for a splitsecond, stopping as he caught it just below its edge and just before it would plummet down, with the inevitable goal of shattering. Only one drop spilled. In front of his chair and his desk stood a relatively young, perhaps twenty-five-year-old, man with a resolute expression and a very dark clothing scheme. His peroxide blond hair was cropped just by his ears.
This man was Hiandrik van Ovridolo.
He wasn't too ever sure on whether it was his real name, or he had imagined it up sometime to cover his identity. It was how he introduced himself. No one ever called him anything but Hiandrik.
He was a murderer, the personal murderer of the Dhasallian kings. And he was proud. All he did, he did for the order and security of the Motherland, for the King and his dynasty.
And thus he was here today, in a castle in the most secluded place in the whole of Dhasallia, in a damp and dark study with a noble that posed a threat to the throne. He wasn't too sure of this task, though. It might've been how Adraan carelessly reacted to the prospect of a cloaked man landing in his room, or how he even more carelessly disregarded Hiandrik's warning that he should prepare to die. Or rather... his gaze topped that all, a very sharp and imposing gaze. It all snuck fear into Hiandrik. If it hadn't, Adraan would've already been dead.
What was going on here?
Hiandrik decided that he needed to test Adraan. The old man probably had some trick up his sleeve.
"So, you've come to kill me," the noble repeated. "Well, I couldn't possibly put anything beyond young Davoor. The boy thinks he's a king, but he's just a boy. He has his father's willpower, but none of his father's brains."
As he raised his glass of wine to take a single sip, a dagger flew right inbetween the glass and his face, not cutting either, but proceeding to fly in the direction of the wall. Hiandrik pointed another one threateningly.
"What, you don't agree?" the middle-aged man asked, with a truly and almost sincerely surprised expression on his face. "Davoor doesn't particularly think in life. His father put down the revolt in the Lower Dwoiyara region. Davoor restarted it."
The assassin did not respond in any movement.
"I was a friend of, may he rest in peace, Aartlen, our dear and beloved king Davoor II's father, as you know it. I'd not have betrayed him."
"I'm not here to question my orders." Hiandrik spoke, in a low, quiet voice.
"Why do you think you snuck in here so simply?" Adraan said, ignoring his statement.
Hiandrik raised an eyebrow.
"Because this assassination of yours is better than a trial, and a public execution, which Davoor would hold, no matter that he wouldn't find me guilty in any court that would not be bribed or intimidated a priori. If I die, I want to die a loyal servant of the crown, not a traitor."
He sat silent for a few seconds, beyond taking another sip of wine.
"Answer me one question, assassin."
"I'm not here to answer questions."
"Then your very being here is moot. So far you have not done anything productive."
Strong argument. Hiandrik slowly nodded.
"The condemned deserve a last wish."
"Why are you here? Why am I considered a threat?"
Hiandrik crossed his arms.
"To kill you, as you know, for the first question. As for the second one, you asked only for a single question. Lord Adraan," he raised his voice as Adraan opened his mouth to protest, "I don't even know. I don't question orders. I go and carry them out."
Adraan sat silent for a few seconds and noticed his wine glass running out.
"May I offer you a glass of Neavillandian wine? First class, imported straight from the Southlands. Amallora, they call it. Medium dry."
"I will not excuse myself from such an opportunity. I have not had a good glass of amallora in years."
Adraan nodded, went up to a shelf, and took a wine bottle from there, refilling his glass and handing a new one to Hiandrik. Hiandrik saw no chair to sit down on, so he just leant against the wall. They stayed in this position for a while, drinking wine.
"Answer another question. Not as an assassin giving a person his last wish, but as a person giving another person another."
"What's going to happen to my family, assassin?"
"I won't kill them, I can assure you that. I don't kill women and children. But I don't know what the king has planned for them. I wouldn't think much, though. If he wanted to harm them too, he'd just execute you as a traitor, in public."
Adraan nodded and fixed his gaze on his table. Soon, Hiandrik realized he was looking at a sandglass.
It was a strange little sandglass. It was placed in a stand that did not, as was often the standard, surround the whole hourglass as if some sort of case, no, this stand held only the lowest part, encircling it in a wooden cone. Hiandrik realized the time was running. He also felt something stir in the air.
A corner of his lip turned up. He was dealing with a mage. Probably a very passive one, or with very weak powers. Or...
The Order of Mages, an institution institutionalized by the kings, held a very tight grip on magic in the Westlands and the Southlands and was in turn held in a very tight grip by the secular and religious rulers of the world. Early in a child's life, if the child had the gift of magic, he'd be visited, alongside his parents, by a representative of the Order, who would offer two choices: either the child joins the Order, or he can choose to be separated from his ability of using magic, it being disposed of entirely via a ritual, hopefully never to awaken again. However, because most children could not bear the prospect of spending years and years away from their parents in a magical academy only to discover they have even tighter restrictions on them once they're all grown up, in most cases, the Order tried persuading the children, impress them with magic, charm them so they would not refuse. So instead of most children refusing, most children accepted, sooner or later. Most nobles, in fact, very near to all of them, refused, because they had duties enough at home.
However, this was not faultless. The gift of magic was often so weak that the mages missed it, or a forsaken gift could break free later unexpected. Or even, there were cases in which children born with the gift of magic were purposedly forgotten, with the hope that their inability to control their gift would prove devastating. It was particularly so in the cases where the Order of Mages had a hate in their minds for some noble. Once eventually their sons would set the whole castle on fire and lower drawbridges by twitching their eyebrows, it proved disastrous.
"My time is running out," Adraan said. Hiandrik would've not mentally disagreed if not for the strange tone in those words. The old man raised his eyes to him. Instead of green and tired as they were before, now they were golden, and what a golden it was - from one edge of the eye to the other, golden light shone. No pupil, no iris, no sclera, nothing. Just golden light. And that golden light didn't seem tired.
And then the middle-aged-man, now evidently possessed by something, spoke. In a great, loud, booming voice that reminded him of lightning.
"Fools - all of you, humankind and elvenkind, dwarves and orcs! You cannot see clearly. You kill at the orders of another, he is getting ready to die at your hands, and that another who ordered you to kill him doesn't even know why he did it. I can see clearly. That another will lose his empire, little man. His kingdom will be the place of many murders, many killings at the orders of that another, and all because he does not know why he does it. This little man, little man, shall be the first of the killings! Rejoice! You have the right of beginning this trend, little man!"
"Who are you?" Hiandrik tried his best not to sound frightened. He couldn't be frightened now, of all times.
"I am the light and the shadows, little man. I am the essence of the universe, and the death of the world. I, and my brothers, we are the driving force behind your magic. I am a spirit from the land beyond the land!"
Hiandrik was not an expert on magic. If he had been, he'd have solved this riddle. Mages had the gift of magic due to a mental connection between them and the Upper Plane, the realm of the spirits. From the Plane, mages called down the power to reshape reality, at great cost, mostly in energy, too.
But what Hiandrik was an expert on doing, was killing. And he realized when swirling masses of golden energy started swirling around Adraan, and when the spirit screamed "Kill this little man, little man, if you want to live!" that he had to kill.
He lashed out with a dagger, despite an ever increasing feel that he'll be in trouble if he really does kill the old man, towards the possessed noble.
At the splitsecond when blood splattered from Adraan's throat, at the splitsecond when the dagger drove into the skin and the meat under it, at the same splitsecond Adraan choked. At the same splitsecond all the gold vanished, and, unceremoniously, the man collapsed on the ground.
One last statement by the spirit resounded in Hiandrik's head - a snarl surprisingly reminiscent of a laugh, and a very brief sentence, briefer than the snarl itself. "Good work."
Meh, I dunno. I have the annoying nagging feeling this didn't quite turn out as I hoped it would. Buuuuuuut... let's see what the people say.