While Leila rested from her ordeal with the entity known as Old Gray, Zeke took watch over the unconscious former ex-royal. As the night continued, foul creatures began to amass near the cathedral. Zeke ready for whatever danger presented itself, a pack of ghouls hungry for living flesh surrounded the young warrior and the unconscious woman. After dispatching the ghouls, the pair decided it was best to start moving once again in their search for the Eyes of Ashara. The two bonded briefly under the iridescent stained glass of the abandoned cathedral before setting off.
The morning dawn bled from the eastern desert near Igstanpur as bright orange cascaded against the cool indigo from the evening night. Leila and Zeke had found their way through along an intricate district full of large mansions and estates. Most of them were square structures aligned into quadrants around groves or fountain springs. The level of cleanliness suggested the amount of money that travelled through here. Most likely noble housing, Zeke thought. The streets were silent for the most part, the occasional group of sentries patrolled single file. Armed with spears, swords, and shields. Luckily their own steps gave enough sound to cover the pair’s movements between buildings and groves.
The morning sun had finally pierced the height of the city walls by the time Leila and Zeke found a sewer grate. Hesitant at first, Zeke simply nodded and followed Leila down below making sure they covered their activities above. The bits of light that managed to pierce through the sewer grates gave mild illumination inside, the sewer tunnels here were surprisingly well kept. But a sewer was still a sewer: wet with the occasional vermin. The two stepped up their pace once underground, Leila navigated through the tunnels with precise awareness with each twist and turn. Zeke followed along without question, he did not care how she knew the sewer layout so long as they got closer to finding the Eyes of Ashara.
“So what did that old wolf show you?” Zeke inquired.
“He showed me a few things, I’m still trying to piece it together honestly. But there were a few things that stuck out, a sigil of two birds with fish, a set of white doors with golden trims, and ashes.” Leila replied, still mesmerized by the winding sewer path ahead.
“Ash?” The young man stopped for a moment.
It took a little while before Leila noticed and turned to him. “What’s wrong?”
“Was there anything else associated with the ash? Could you smell it? What color were they?” Zeke asked concerned.
Leila returned his concern with some of her own. Why would he worry? She wondered, but closed her eyes to focus on the vision once more. Her breathing slowed, ignoring the ambient sounds except for the sound of her beating heart. Back into her memory, the vision from Old Gray slowly came back to light though blurred compared to the vivid clarity from before.
Footsteps softly along marbled floor, the lighting was soft as if in mid-morning or late afternoon. The halls were largely silent, no guards, no workers from a building of this size. The halls were intricately decorated with motifs and crowns suggesting some monetary extravagance or nobility. A pair of white doors with gold trimming lay ahead, cautious and silently advancing along the empty corridor. Upon closer inspection, the door is slightly ajar with a crack just large enough to peek through.
Inching closer and closer, the vision becomes clearer. Once at the door, the image becomes apparent through the crack from the doorway. A cloud of black embers and ash rain downward on the pristine marble floor. A faint echo of a cry that was snuffed by the instant conflagration. A figure draped in a black cloak with its hood still up, covered in black leather with belts and buckles of equal shade. The flash of a silvered rune dagger held to the side. The figure turned, eyes of black flame project outward. Eyes full of rage, chaos, and destruction. An endless spiral of despair and misery.
Leila returned to the world from the sudden shock, her face pale from the revisited revelation. Images part of her psyche suppressed now exposed to reality once more. Zeke shared a concerned look upon her, a sense of acknowledge to their urgency.
“Do you know anything about a black ash? Or even eyes filled with black flames?” She beseeched.
Zeke remained silent for a moment, pensive in thought and words. “He is an assassin from the Nest of Shadows, a deadly one. He wields black flames for some god, all in the name of divine justice. He’s a fanatic really, hellbent on destruction and burning the world in unholy flames. I’ve never dealt with him before, but I’ve heard whispers and a name. Blackfire.”
“If the Nest is involved, than we have a bigger problem. Damn Drakka! She must have caught their attention when Azmal tried to sell it off to her,” Leila cursed.
“Why is that?” Zeke inquired.
“I’ve heard that Drakka had been ‘recruited’ by someone, business deal. The problem: the proprietor is rumored to have it in with the Nest. It’s been practically open war for the last three years.” Leila spat.
“Who is her partner?” Zeke asked firmly.
“I don’t know, but I know that they’ve been adversaries for a very long time. That was what I heard. Her business arrangement gave her plenty of gold, in exchange for certain favors and services. Drakka became rather influence in short time, which was why I initially apprehensive when I heard Azmal had dealings with her. But seeing as that it did not fall through, that means that he must still have the Eyes of Ashara. But if anyone got wind that Drakka was involved, then no doubt her ‘benefactor’ was aware too. The Nest has many eyes, so naturally their adversary’s interests would coincide with theirs. On top of all that, the bloody Inquisitors have a stake in all of this as well. By the Nine Gods, can anything simply just go as planned?” Leila ranted.
Zeke remained silent, staring at Leila intently. Indeed the situation had continued to only escalate in the stakes. The notion of facing the Nest of Shadows did not bode well with him, most men hoped to die by a blade from another than one from a member of the Nest. The young man could hold his own in a fight, but against a well-trained assassin from the Nest, that was a different matter. Those for the Nest were skilled in combat, tricks, stealth, and dealing death. No one survives when marked by the Nest. But he could not abandon her now he thought.
He placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder as he pushed forward. “The Gods blessed you with a vision and a warning. They do not give such kindness typically. Take solace in their generosity, for many are never given such gifts from them.”
Leila looked at the young man’s back, almost in admiration for such resolve. A bit of sorrow dwelled in her chest as she wondered what sort of pains he must have endured for it. She caught up until they were side by side, hands at their weapons for whatever dangers lay ahead.
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