Monday, July 25, 2011
A Tasha is Born
Murielle stalked along the cave wall in near total darkness. The stench of pirates, who hadn’t seen a bath in days, filled her nostrils. Not to mention, the pungent odors of rotting fish guts and briny sea air wafting through the seaside cave.
“Stinking wretches.” Murielle said under her breath as she continued to move deeper into the cave.
The target was close, she knew. Perhaps he was just around the next bend. Eight years of training was about to be put to a final test. Her proctor had shown great confidence in her by allowing the final test to commence so early. It normally took at least ten years of hard training before one was allowed to attempt the test, but Murielle took to the training well and quickly surpassed her peers. Now, she was on her final test and she would not fail. Murielle feared disappointing her proctor more than dying at the hands of a smelly pirate in some backwater cave. This was everything to her, without it she had nothing.
Three women dressed in fine clothes had found Murielle in the dungeon beneath a Pasha’s palace in the city of Calimport more than eight years ago. She was caught stealing food from the wrong people and was now facing a life as a concubine to service anyone that the Pasha deemed necessary. She was eight years old, a puny human girl, alone and starving. The three finely dressed women purchased her and two other young girls, also in the Pasha’s harem, for the sum of sixteen gold pieces. Since then, her life has been one of study and training. Her body honed, her mind sharpened and her will fortified. Now was the time she could begin to repay those that saved her from a life on her knees. She would not fail. She must not.
A flickering light bouncing off the walls of the cave caught her eye and brought her back from the memories of the distant past to the present and the test that she must complete. She was very close now. Murielle eased her head around the bend and looked into the large cavern beyond. There were more than twenty pirates, a few scullery maids and a couple of cabin boys in the cavern. The scullery maids giggled and flirted with the gap-toothed scum in between delivering drinks that the cabin boys were busy refilling. There were no other exits save the natural chimney that was in the ceiling some fifteen feet above a central fire pit.
Murielle entered the room as no more than a shadow among many that danced along the cavern walls. At one point a pirate stumbled over to relieve himself on the wall just a few feet from her, but the homely man was too inebriated to notice the teenage girl frozen against the rocky wall of the cavern. A teenage girl who could end his miserable existence with the slightest effort, but that would not fulfill the contract and complete the test. Murielle continued on toward the back of the cavern where the target was most likely to be.
The pirate Captain Dervante was sitting on a big, stone chair carved directly from a large limestone formation that jutted up from the floor. A large bottomed lady sat on his lap and giggled incessantly at his every utterance. The pirate downed another mug of ale and slapped the wench on the thigh which made her giggle even louder.
Murielle began to scan the room, as she had been taught. The cabin boys worked furiously at filling the steady flow of empty steins that piled atop the table near the barrels of ale and whiskey, the serving wenches twirled and whirled about the rowdy throng of stinking pirates and Captain Dervante sat on his throne of stone feeling totally secure surrounded by his underlings. There is no such thing as total security; Murielle recalled her proctor’s teachings. She studied the esteemed captain for many moments from the wall just to the side of his throne looking for the necklace that she was to grab as proof of the deed done. It was there around his neck just as the client had said it would be, along with an impressive looking dagger sheathed in a bandolier across Dervante’s chest. Murielle silently told herself that she would go for the dagger only after the deed was done and the contract fulfilled. It was certainly a nice dagger and would fetch a good price to support the organization. The pirate captain had fallen heavily into drink and would be an easy kill.
The simple, leather armor Murielle wore creaked and groaned as her muscles tensed in preparation to launch her attack. She waited for the large bottomed woman to get up from Dervante’s lap and then she rushed in behind the woman and expertly shifted around behind the throne using the woman to shield her movements perfectly. Dervante lets out a boisterous laugh and forces Murielle to pause for a few seconds to let the pompous windbag finish. Cutting the loud captain off abruptly by severing his spine at the base of his skull, would draw immediate attention and make it more difficult to make her escape, not to mention she might have to leave that shiny dagger behind. She crouches back behind the throne to wait for the unsuspecting dolt to accept his death more quietly.
Captain Dervante’s laughter dies down and he leans forward a bit and then pumps his fist into his chest to coax forth a belch. The belch erupts from his gullet as the last breath from a dead pirate as Murielle’s stiletto pierces the base of the captain’s skull and then instantly pivots to the left neatly severing the spinal cord.
“A fitting end to a stinking wretch such as you, captain.” Murielle whispers under her breath as she snips the chain of the necklace and slips back behind the throne in an instant.
Feeling no restlessness about the room she decides to go for the shiny dagger before making her escape. From the shadows behind the throne a small feminine hand reaches around the pirate captain’s chest and fingers the shiny dagger in the bandolier, and then quickly the dagger and the hand are gone. The drunken pirate watching this small hand take the dagger blinks stupidly at the sight for more than a few seconds before realizing something is wrong.
“Thief!” The drunken fool stands up and shouts, not realizing the irony of that declaration given the company he currently keeps.
The large cavern erupts into chaos and shouts of alarm fill the air moments later when the true deed is discovered. Murielle looks down on the floor of the cavern one last time as she braces herself against the walls of the small, yet adequately sized, natural chimney where she will make her escape.
“Too easy.” Murielle scoffs and then tucks the shiny dagger into her belt and begins the climb up and out of the caves.
Murielle’s proctor sits at a table in the back of the small, common room at the Two Skulls tavern in Waterdeep. She wears a dark brown traveling cloak tied neatly at the neck with a simple iron clasp in the shape of two crossed daggers. She pulls the cloak’s hood back when a stranger enters and moves to sit at the table with her. Her blonde hair is cut short and closely cropped in the back with longer strands hanging loosely in front of her face. She peers up at the stranger as he sits down and places a large pouch of gold on the table in front of her.
“My pupil has not yet returned with news.” The blonde woman whispers as she pushes the large pouch back toward the man.
“Your organization has never failed me before.” The man states flatly as he stares back at the woman.
“No payment until the deed is proven. It is our way.” The mysterious woman’s voice shot back in a serious tone.
“Honorable murderers, eh? Very well, have it your way.” The strange man grabs the large pouch and stows it away at his belt.
“Would you rather us be unreliable cutthroats and thieves?” The blonde woman smirked back at the man.
“I would rather bed you, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t wake up the next morning.” The man chuckled a bit at his clever retort but found that the blonde woman’s smirk was gone replaced by a serious stare. His chuckle ended abruptly. The man grew more uncomfortable as the silent moments dragged on.
Murielle entered the Two Skulls tavern near midnight precisely as her proctor had instructed her to do. Her dark brown traveling cloak pulled tight around her to ward off the chilly night air of the late harvest season. She looked around the common room and quickly noticed her proctor sitting at a small table with a man who was most likely the contractor. She quickly reminded herself of the protocols of public greetings especially in the presence of a contractor and then pulled back her hood and started toward the small table. Her shortly cropped, blonde locks hung loosely just passed her jaw line and she nodded to the contractor when he looked up at her as she approached the table. Murielle stopped in front of the seated woman, bowed low and then spun around her chair with lightning speed to stand directly behind her while resting a hand on the sitting woman’s shoulder. Murielle’s face was stern and her chin was raised as she stared straight ahead and held a rigid posture.
The seated woman gently stroked Murielle’s hand and then tapped her index finger lightly on the back of it. The next instant Murielle pulled out the necklace she had taken from the corpse of Captain Dervante and placed it gently in her proctor’s waiting hand. The sitting woman placed it on the table in front of the man.
“The deed is proven?” The sitting woman asked quietly.
“It is proven.” The man said as he grabbed the necklace and examined it for a few moments. He then lifted the large pouch of gold from his belt once again and placed it on the table in front of the sitting woman.
“The contract is fulfilled. Our business is ended, unless we have other things to discuss?” The woman at the table asked as she scooped up the large pouch of gold and absently handed it to Murielle standing behind her all the while keeping her gaze fixed on the man sitting across from her.
“You did well for one so young, sweetheart. I’m sure they have big plans for you.” The man took his gaze from the necklace and looked directly at Murielle as he spoke. Murielle stood unmoving and did not acknowledge his words at all.
“Oh, that’s right. They don’t let you young girls talk at all do they?” The man continued when it became clear there would be no response.
“Any other business?” The sitting woman cut in sharply which immediately pulled the man’s attention back to her.
“No other business as of now.” The man stated flatly seeming finally defeated in his efforts to rattle either of the stoic women.
“Then we shall take our leave.” The woman said as she stood up from the table and headed out of the tavern. Murielle pulled her cloak tight around her as she followed two paces behind her proctor out into the streets. She spoke not a word as they walked along the back alleys and dark side streets of Waterdeep. They took a circular route to make sure they were not followed and then finally they were at the door to the one of the organizations safe houses. Once inside Murielle knelt on the floor in front of her proctor with her head bowed low.
“I greet you formally as my superior, Proctor Gertrude.” Murielle’s voice was filled with reverence and respect as she spoke the words. In truth, she felt uneasy until she could openly greet her proctor and formally show her the respect that she deserved.
“Are you injured?” The older woman said with obvious concern in her voice after she had judged the greeting to be genuine.
“No Ma'am. The only thing that assaulted me was the stench of the place.” Murielle said still kneeling on the floor in front of the older woman and keeping her eyes downward. “If I may, Proctor Gertrude, I liberated this dagger from the smelly windbag.” She said, and hastily pulled out the shiny weapon and laid it down on the floor in front of her.
“Yes, well done young one. It will fetch a fine price for the organization.” The older woman could not keep the pride from her voice as she spoke those last words which made Murielle look up and smile. Murielle expected to see her proctor standing over her, but she was surprised to find Proctor Gertrude sitting on a chest in the corner of the room.
“Rise Murielle, my catechumen, I greet you as my sister.” Proctor Gertrude said flatly.
The older woman’s smile grew wider as she looked upon her pupil with all the pride and respect that she had come to feel toward the young girl over the past eight years but could never show her until now. Murielle rose to her feat clumsily still in disbelief that her proctor, her teacher and mentor for the past eight years was greeting her as an equal. She had passed her final test.
“In this chest is the armor of our sisterhood.” The older woman rose and pointed to the chest she had been sitting on and then she straightened herself and continued. “Once you put it on, it will become part of you for the rest of your days.” The older woman reached down and pulled open the heavy lid on the chest to reveal its contents.
Murielle reached into the large chest and cautiously pulled out the small, blackened leather suit that lay there neatly folded. The suit was one piece with a long split down the back but there were no fasteners to be seen. She cautiously looked it over as the smile grew wider across her face matching her growing excitement. The suit looked like it was sized for a halfling but Murielle had seen Gertrude remove her armor a few times and knew that the suit would stretch to fit her perfectly.
“Once you don the suit, the struggle to command it will begin. Steel your will as I have taught you young one and you will prevail.” Gertrude’s voice was one of an instructor giving a few last commands to a pupil. She knew the young assassin would have a long night ahead of her.
“I’m ready Proctor Gertrude. I’ve never been more ready for anything.” Murielle’s smile disappeared and her gaze grew serious as she looked to Proctor Gertrude for final permission.
“The challenge is accepted. You may begin my catechumen.” Gertrude said with a finality that gave Murielle a surge of confidence. “On the morning, I will greet you formally as a true Tasha Vexx.”
Those last words echoed inside her head and filled her with excitement and panic all at once. For eight years Murielle had trained her body, honed her mind and learned ancient arts of combat to bring her to this ultimate goal. She now had the chance to become a Tasha Vexx. The chance to serve the organization that had rescued her so long ago from a life of servitude and humiliation at the hands of some large, sweaty Pasha in the city of Calimport.
Murielle stood naked in the center of the small, common room of the organization’s safe house holding the suit of black, leather armor out in front of her. She took a long, deep breath and then proceeded to don the armor. Murielle’s right foot slid down into the leggings through the slit in the back of the armor and then her left foot slid in the same way. At once the armor began to stretch as it rolled up her body across her thighs and over her hips. Then, it covered her mid section, and then her chest and finally rolled down the length of her arms and up the back of her head. The split in the back of the armor sealed up and there she stood only a few moments later covered in a shimmering, black second skin made of leather.
Murielle’s mind was immediately flooded with sensations. Her senses became sharpened and her muscles tensed with a new found power. A few short moments later images started flooding into her mind and she felt as if the room was spinning. She hit the floor lost in a barrage of memories that were not her own. Murielle was now battling for control of the malevolent armor, Gertrude knew, and she wasted no time shackling her young sister’s hands and feet to the large iron hooks that were set firmly into the floor of the safe house for precisely that purpose.
It would be a long night indeed.