“The Vindicator decapitated Vorios the False for his crimes against the Empire, and for the treasonous poisoning of Emperor Jarec the Vigilant! Then the new High Sentinel arose later with the Vigilant Star! The time of Vindication had begun as the works of the Ghost Emperor were cast out, and the power of the Dominion was made whole once again!” the storyteller said before the gather audience within a small tavern just outside Hycrest. For the past three days the man had been regaling all the passers by with the stories of the Old Empire, of the time before Myrcalus, and the greatness that once arose before the coming of Serick Brightland.
The man’s name was unknown, but the people call him the ‘Masked Mummer’ for the colorful mask of jade, and sapphire cloth he wore during his performances. It was the woman in the white hair near the back of the tavern among the wafting clouds of smoke that he however ignored. She held watch over the man for the past several hours after relieving one of her men before her. Nympadora Talyn, wanted to know more about the man. His mask was not just part of his act, it was part of who he was.
Even as the mans tarted another story, this about the rise of Toric Antevian to the leadership of the Radiant, the man moved in a way that was off. Most of those watching him were Draken, young Mechari, lowly Chua techs, or Lowborn cassians. The man himself used a rough Lowborn accent, but a careful ear could pick-up the suppressed Highborn inflections. The man was a dangerous creature.
Two weeks had passed since her initial revelation of the growing mutiny against her power. After killing the last of the mutineers she heard word all the way from Cassus of a loss of assets. A portion of the Talyn corporate holdings was now under power of Quazar family. A factor which greatly angered the woman.
The man’s real name, was Eckhart Caligius, and was the uncle of Dresdan Talyn’s Caligian wife, Lucretia. a strange fop of a man whose own wife was a Quazar by birth. Oh how much I hate them. The white haired woman’s angered had risen after reading the files on the target. Days before when her Intelligence Officer had given her the alert of his arrival, Nymphadora had assumed Eckhart was on Nexus to join the rest of the settlers. That was far from right.
Even now as the man was finishing up his routine, he was turning to speak to two strange dark scaled Draken. Both were members of an the BlackSkull Clan, a nontraditionalist Draken family that held more liberal beliefs than others of their kind. Even though they did not wear a clan symbol, Nymphadora had encountered enough of their members while during the Ravaging of Arboria to identify their ritualistic tattoos they wore marked around their eyes. A small series of red and black dots tracing in a thing spiral above each of their right eyebrows.
Whatever the Caligian was up to, he and the BlackSkull were in bed with the Quazar family. A fact that showed that the mutiny against her power ran far deeper than she had originally assumed.
Five minutes later Eckhart adjusted his colorful facial mask, and walked over to the edge of the small establishment to grab a cloak near the door. With a flourish of the long black gold fringed cloth he gave a bow to the mixed audience, and opened the door to leave. It was the moment the Talyn had been waiting for. Slowly standing from her seat she sent a message encoded on her datachron to her contacts waiting outside. Tonight the cleansing would begin with the spilling of Caligian blood.
Outside Hycrest, and outside the walls the Bingberry orchards cast long shadows from the moons of Nexus. Eckhart was walking alone outside a small lowborn farmhold when he stopped. His tall frame was silhouetted against the backdrop of the orchard. His mask gone, his face was squarish, with a long roman nose. Clean cut eyebrows arched over red proud eyes. A thin lipped mouth was then poised near a sharp chiseled chin. He was a Caligian, and the man knew his looks. Eckhart masked himself for the very reason he held the belief that his bloodline’s purity alone would show through his appareance. The man even had taken lessons to hid his proper accent.
All to do the work that he had agreed to do for his associates back on Cassus. True Sons were a fickle lot. But, that was not what was on his midn at the moment. Right then, his biggest worry was the Stalker following him. A notion he had realized once he left the bar back in Hycrest. Strange to have a Stalker after him, but then again the Highborn were servants of the Luminai, and the Houses did not always get along. I wonder if its the Claudians. His mind slipped over the possibility of a rival family’s assassin following him all the way to the new Imperial homeworld.
A shimmer ran a hundred feet in front of him, and then a whirring sound sizzled from a Bingberry sixteen paces to his right. Eckhart froze, his muscles loading to spring into action. Underneath his cloak he a large singular blade appear at his wrist.
“I am a pre-eminent stalker, former ICI, your silly little tricks will not end me,” the man said haughtily. The shimmer in front began to materialize into the typical Draken goon. Another taller form, a mechari, appeared behind him.
“I am active ICI,” a feminine voice answered him from beside the tree to his right. A purple and black formfitting armor covered a tall curved muscular figure. The voice then added, “And you will die here, in this place, and you will die alone.”
Eckhart Caligius son of Robert Caligius was far from afraid. A mistake he would pay with his life. The woman talking to him took a step partially out of the shadows and ripped off her headgear. Long silken white hair spilled out as a pair of green eyes stared at him.
“Talyn,” the man said as he suddenly disappeared from sight, a move Nymphadora had been waiting for. Her eyes closed as her hands flew to her twin mag-pistols. Both had been handed down in the Talyn family for years, well one had. The other was gone, stolen from her. The woman reacted quickly enough and sprayed a rapid fire of magically bound projectiles at the man’s former location. Her Mechari and Draken associates were already using their internal HUDs to locate the enemy Stalker.
The fight would cease in only a few seconds. Before she could even make another decision her arm felt a rapid impact, and then a piercing pain. The bastard was to her back left blind spot. I’m getting slow. Nymphadora’s thoughts honed, and let her refocus on the task at hand, killing the enemy.
To describe combat as a dance would really be a farce. Combat was a violet ugly thing. To kill cleanly was a myth made up to make those who killed feel better. When Nymph felt the man hamstring her she fell to the ground as her leg gave out. This was not expected. She was suppose to have the upper hand here, but the old fogie was proving a more than adequate assassin.
There was factor that Eckhart Caligius had not counted on, Pumera.
When he hamstrung the Talyn herself the man was giddy. Even in his aging days he still kept himself in peak physical condition. That still did not stop the large muscle bound Pumera from leaping on him when his back was turned. It further did not prevent the man from finding his flesh rent blood by the great claws of the Torine trained cat. No, Eckhart Caligius died with his throat ripped open, and bleeding on the open ground.
“You are lucky Sanjo saved you,” the giant woman told Nymphadora. It was a few minutes later, and Andromache was standing over the slowly healing apprentice.
“I did not expect the bastard to be full armed,” the woman replied as one of her people leaned over and turned up the settings on the resonator he was holding. The Torine had arrived just in time, a near act of Deus ex machina really. Now while the beloved “sanjo’ was devouring the remains of one Masked Mummer, Andromache was having a lecture with her Cassian pupil.
“I should have instructed you to tame a Pumera before you left, but you had to take on the Masked Mummer. You had to find out what was creeping like the Strain into your family.” The words rang deep into Nymphadora’s perception. Andromache was right, this was about cleansing a rot within her family, and the identity she had onc held with it.
“Then I have to tame a Pumera,” the pupil replied to the teacher, “And begin a crusade against the cancer that grows within.”
Andromache gave a nod while Sanjo died upon the former rot known as Eckhart Caligius.