Wayward: Chapter Four

The moon hung low and bright over the sinking city of Fullara, the last of another year’s snow showers had just begun to peter out as the voice roused the Badger. She had been sleeping fitfully all that night but wouldn’t have ever thought the source to be tied to the Rh’euleen, Metrux, herself. Worse still, she never thought a contract would demand she step foot through one of those dreadful portals, but Telaryn Sephera was beginning to realize much of her thinking flawed. After all, she had thought ruling an empire from the shadows, influencing decisions with threats and violence, and removing any opposition with quiet force would be an excellent way to go about life. However, with all that she could do, there came the heavy burden of knowing how and when to strike, who to target, and figuring in which way her actions would affect the results. To simply stay out of it all may have been the better option, but now the Iron Talon was sunk deep into Fullara and the surrounding cities to the point that all of Kor-Kaine was under their control, indirectly, of course. Getting away from it all for a while would do her some good; the organization would be in capable paws without her for a time. What good were her generals and other higher officers of the Talon if she could not leave them in charge while she went on a brief excursion.

Rolling from the warmth of her bed, the Badger quickly began to regret and abhor this job or at least the request to commence it right away. She nearly crumpled to the floor as her paw pads left the tiles warmed by the hearth to set down on those far out of range from the heat. “Spit and cinders!” Sephera cursed, trying to push herself across the floor on tiptoes with it being of little help to her. Flinging open the wardrobe, she snatched what necessary articles she could quickly make out in the dark and tossed them onto her bed before returning there herself with the case. Resting her tail in the warm sheets, the heat leaving fast enough to insist the outdoors were likely unbearably cold, Sephera began to dress. Wrapping her feet wouldn’t do tremendously well against the cold, but it would help keep the pads insulated, that trick she worked first. Everything else was secondary after getting those feet covered, even with the cold air nipping in places she’d rather it not, the warmth of her paw pads was paramount. Slipping on an initial layer of lighter clothes, Sephera began to feel warm enough to return to the wardrobe for the thicker layer she would need for stepping outside. First, however, was the business of the case and the equipment waiting inside.

A kitchen’s worth of knives sat under the cloak and found their places concealed on her person in only moments. Along with the blades were a sundry of other minor instruments of silent murders and stealthy escapes, not things Sephera herself had cooked but amassed on her way to becoming Grandmaster. However, just beneath the array of small tools sat the only piece of her arsenal that meant anything. Some of those blades she grabbed had saved her life on occasions, other tools helped her to take down high marked bounties, and still more had allowed her to reach the pinnacle of the Talon, but the tool beneath was something more. Dropping the lantern-shaped end weight on the cloak, Sephera took the kusarigama by the handle and lifted it the sky. Moonlight filled the edge and silver sliver until it seemed to nearly glow on its own, the magnificent ray of hungry metal could very well sparkle with her Erkinan if she desired. No, this was not a weapon, not a tool, or a simple piece of iron, the kusarigama was an extension of her and her power. It was the symbol of the assassin, the signature of no other master before her, but most importantly, it was her most dear of friends. Sliding a paw against the length of the blade, the Badger shivered slightly to know its touch once more and whispered its name, “Water Lily.”

Adding on the second layer of clothing locked in what heat remained in Sephera, all was then encased from head to toe in the cloak. The various markings would mean much to one in the Iron Talon or one too knowledgeable of the group for their own good. Firstly, was the wine red trim of it, against the ash-gray it stood out as night from day but moreover were the bisected squares that patterned the edge. One in the know would realize it to be the sign Ol’ Jor, the great father of Kor-Kaine that had made his dynasty on the tails of poisoned rivals. Next was the innards of the cloak, it was lined with pockets and straps and all other means to hold and carry concealed weapons, but more significant was the very neatly done embroidery. Silvery thread outlined four-pointed stars that themselves would look like just a random clustering, but when laid out in full, formed the noose, the honorable death of those with still tongues. Against the side of the hood was the more obvious signature, the faded and old insignia of the forgotten clan that had become the Iron Talon. The shattered crescent moon had lost meaning to all but those well aware of the Talon’s history, a history that stretched lifetimes back. Finally was the only bit of flair Sephera could lay claim to, the three bolts of lightning that sat at either side of the neck’s opening. Golden, silver, and ebony, the distinction was one only she could lay claim too as no other Grandmaster of the Iron Talon could boast to being a Lord of Metrux, let alone she who commanded the Erkinan of electricity and lightning.

Cold was all she felt as she stepped from her private quarters on the second floor out into the common area. Looking over the railing, she could see the congregation of the initiates, low cast, and destitutes, all huddled together for warmth. In so many ways, Sephera wished she could change the way the Iron Talon worked, but even as the Grandmaster, she had to leave particular articles of the charter alone. Were she to succumb to weakness, allow newcomers proper accommodations as well as warmth and good food, the veterans would become cross. She knew it well enough, they had begun to buck her established authority when she amended the charter to allow initiates to be housed in the main entry, Sephera wouldn’t dare push further. With immense care, she stepped over the huddled and poorly wrapped bodies, all strung into a heap to conserve heat. It was not out of kindness she did so, but more as a test. These men and women were to become active killers for the Talon, their eyes and ears would always need to be peeled and focused on those things that were utterly out of focus. It was a less than inspiring sight to see not a one of them rouse even slightly from what had to be a hard slumber. A pity it was, to know her attempts to better the next generation would instead prove to be their downfall. Old assassins would see it as weakness or inability to perform, and these hopeful souls would be cast out if they were lucky. Were they outside, such an impromptu test would not be possible, and no slight would be made of it. Cracking open the main door, with a literal crack as a small stream of ice broke free, Sephera eyed the frigid world beyond her abode. Moonlight illuminated the snow until it was almost a glow enough to see the city without the aid of a lantern, fortunate that, as she would not be taking one. The life of an assassin was a world of shadows, to illuminate oneself was to become the next target.

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