The door slammed open. The plain man staggered in, blood dripping from a wound on his temple. His eyes flitted across the simple, well-furnished room before he stumbled toward the small reading desk, mouth locked in grim determination. As he limped his way across the floor, he glanced behind him at the door, which hung open. A figure appeared in the doorway, concealed in a voluminous, tattered cloak and hood. The edges of the cloak undulated, moving unnaturally against the wind. A brief expression of fear crossed the plain man’s face as his pursuer stepped into the room before he turned, laboring to cross the final few feet between himself and the small desk.
Then the plain man tripped. He fell smoothly, his quick reflexes turning the spill into a roll, but the intruder moved faster. Long chains burst out from beneath the cloak, cruel barbs tearing through the already ragged garment as they sought out the plain man as if possessed of a voracious and malign will of their own. The chains scythed through the air, too fast to stop … and then rebounded forcefully against an unseen barrier! Blue-white light flared in a circle around the intruder, its interior a criss-cross of complex lines and shapes. The cloaked figure hissed in surprise and spun, chains lashing out in every direction. All rebounded as they had a moment earlier, halted directly at the perimeter of the softly glowing circle. Fully shredded, the creature’s cloak fell to the floor, revealing a humanoid creature with red skin, hateful yellow eyes and clothed only by the long chains that draped around its body, their ends twitching and writhing with a life of their own.
Across the room, the plain man’s eyes rose to meet the fiend’s. Gone was the fear, replaced by a cold fire. He wiped the blood from his brow and turned toward the desk, wincing as he rose. The intruder watched, chains writhing patiently. The plain man pulled open drawers, pawing through candles, stoppered bottles and papers until he found what he was looking for. The plain man uncorked a small vial and drank its contents thirstily. Then he reached for a small leather-bound book, undoing a band that held the book shut. He straightened, grimacing as the cut on his temple knit itself back together. He flipped through the book, slowly approaching the circle as he did so. The fiend watched the plain man impassively, then hissed in fury as the plain man began to speak, incanting syllables of power in a steady, routine rhythm. Its agitation rose as the ritual continued, the plain man speaking softly and occasionally turning the page of his book. In the plain man’s unremarkable voice, even the ritual sounded boring – at odds with the tension of the situation. Minutes passed. As he continued, moving inexorably toward the conclusion of the ritual, the assassin spoke, its voice coming out as a raspy hiss: “Your efforts are futile in the end, human.” The plain man evidenced no reaction, continuing his incantation calmly. “You have already failed to stop us. Nothing you can do now will make the slightest difference to this realm.” The plain man continued without response, causing the fiend’s eyes to narrow in displeasure.
“Such conviction. Ever the obedient soldier, following orders heedless of the world around you. That’s exactly the narrow thinking that allowed Hadden and Isabelle to perish, defending the precious, misguided plan that you knew was doomed to failure instead of escaping with their lives. Did it even slow you for a second, knowing their sacrifice would be in vain?”
The plain man glanced up, surprise and dismay briefly crossing his face although his voice did not waver. The fiend’s yellow eyes shone fiercely, sensing weakness. “What makes you think that your misdeeds are justified? When you die and your soul is judged, where do you think it will go?” Sweat beaded the plain man’s brow as the devil hissed. “Those who choose obedience over morality have a warm hearth waiting for them in the Hells. How can you live with yourself, knowing that you are exactly what you hate?”
The plain man’s eyes blazed as he spoke the last few words of the ritual. He slammed the book shut and looked the devil square in the eye, voice ringing with conviction. “Vengeance burns hotter than Hell.” Then he slammed his hand down, striking the floor at the circle’s boundary. Brilliant blue light burst up from the circle, and the fiend’s eyes widened in rage as light flared upwards. The devil’s body jerked, as if yanked backwards by a giant’s hand, and burst into cinders a split second later.
Garin watched as the plain man systematically removed all traces of his presence from the house. Walls and floors were scrubbed, bags were packed and a candle was lit to cleanse the room of any smells. The plain man moved precisely and methodically, with the surety of long practice. He paused once, staring out the cracked window where Garin stood for a long moment, as though alerted by some sixth sense. Garin remained motionless, studying the plain man’s eyes as they bored through and past his unseen body. Then the plain man returned to his work, piling his few bags in the middle of the room and pulling a small round stone from his pocket. The plain man gripped the stone, mouthing words silently as he closed his eyes. Garin strained to read the man’s lips: “Mission complete. Dead end, the target knew nothing. There were several complications, will report on return. Leaving now, estimated travel two weeks. New assignment requested.” He then hoisted his backpack and bags, trudging out the door. He left without a backward glance, heading east down the main road toward the city gate. Garin hesitated, knowing that his time on the spell was almost up. He turned and walked back the opposite way, his body melting back into view as he made his way down the darkened street.