The Shadow of the Rose
Chapter 10b

Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy

Returning to Anastasia's home, Aaron opened the door into chaos. Three women trying to get ready for a royal ball was much worse than a full company of orcs, any day. The fact that the ball was being held in honor of one of the women, made it much, much worse. Aaron tried to stay out of the way while he cleaned up and changed into his court clothes.

Still favoring darker colors, Aaron's doublet was charcoal gray, trimmed and decorated with silver thread, over a silver silk shirt with puffed sleeves and lace cuffs. Black pants with a silver vertical stripe on the outside of both legs were bloused inside black leather boots, polished to a mirror shine. No daggers or armor were worn with this outfit and his swords were buckled over and under on his left hip, with scabbards at a downward diagonal from his body. His gloves were charcoal gray dyed leather, left hand sleeve glove worn, while the right hand glove was tucked in his belt. He wore a cloak, not his shadow cloak, but a smaller court cloak, fastened at the neck and extending to the waist. Not to say that he did not have his regular cloak. He packed his important things in his bag of holding and placed it in his shirt. He felt safer having his things close at hand. Taking one last look he determined he was as ready as possible and left his study to wait in the hall for his companions.

The women descended the stairs and Aaron did not think a more beautiful sight had ever been seen. Anastasia was wearing a gray full length dress and fur stole. The dress complemented his attire and enhanced her loveliness. Lady Colleen was next in a forest green dress similar to Anastasia's, right down to the fur stole. Lady Laura made a grand entrance in a sky blue gown with lace shawl. Rac-Nur and the bodyguards wore elegant but practical clothes.

Lady Laura asked him if his swords were necessary this evening to which Aaron only nodded, escorting them out the door and to the waiting carriage. Rac-Nur rode up top with the driver and Rene and Michele rode inside with the ladies. Aaron had Thorn brought down from the stables earlier and he was groomed and pampered as well. Mounting his horse, he followed the carriage to the palace.

Aaron had made a grave error when he assumed that killing Colin Beadle had put an end to the secret society within the Temple of the Hand, or that its power was lost with the death of the God Thief. He had not removed the head of a snake, but just one head of a hydra! The carriage had just passed through the upper city gates when Aaron's error came home to roost!

"My Lord, ambush!" Red Rose cried out. "Multiple attackers, both sides!"

Aaron echoed Red Rose's warning, drew Black Rose and began pulling power from the area. He had just begun to turn Thorn to the right when he felt two arrows hit him in the side under his right arm. The rune in the center of the signet ring on Aaron's left hand flared brightly, longer than ever before, and Aaron felt a continuous tingle throughout his body. Thorn took two arrows in the neck and stumbled and fell dead. Aaron took two more arrows in the chest as he went down with Thorn and was pinned under the horse, his left leg crushed under the animal, as well as broken, by the fall.

Rac-Nur heard Aaron's warning and moved to his left, swinging down toward the carriage door, just as the driver took an arrow in the neck and fell forward. The horses stumbled and fell with arrow shafts sticking out of their necks as Rac-Nur heard screams from inside the carriage. Entering the carriage he pushed Anastasia and Laura to the floor as multiple arrows entered the carriage from both sides hitting Colleen and both bodyguards killing them instantly. Rac-Nur leaned over trying to cover the ladies, hoping his liege was alright.

Aaron was in trouble and losing consciousness fast. He commanded Black Rose to teleport the ladies to safety and then passed out. Black Rose teleported the ladies and Rac-Nur back to the house, and then laid on the ground in his wielder's outstretched hand, waiting for him to die, and dreading the return to its stone.

Tanith was eating dinner when five assassins, all dressed in black entered the inn. Several arrows flew through the air at her as she stood and knocked them down with a sweep of her arm. Lashing out with Eldritch, she incinerated her assailants, leaving nothing but five piles of ash. She gasped as she felt her connection to Aaron weakening, reaching out with her senses she searched for him and then after finding him, went to his location.

Wyrms use a different type of distance travel than sorcerers or even Runeswords, more gate than teleportation. She did not need to have been where she was going, she could sense the location based on any sentient being in the area. But, unlike a gate, her arrival was not pre-announced by the formation of the shift.

Tanith appeared next to Aaron's fallen body just as assassins dressed all in black, closed in on the very same position. Several arrows bounced off of her bustier, angering her, as she transformed to her true self, and screamed her rage at the attackers. Placing a taloned foot protectively over Aaron, she sprayed the area with wyrmfire, engulfing the advancing assassins in flames. She laid down her fire with a precision born of years of knowledge and experience, consuming the attackers without causing unnecessary damage to the surrounding area.

After verifying that no assassins survived her attack, she shifted back to human form and knelt at Aaron's side and inspected his wounds. He was breathing, but just barely. He had four arrows sticking out of him and poison coursed through his veins, one-step cobra venom! Removing the arrows she began to scribe runes over his body as she fed him Eldritch, trying to repair the damage as she kept him alive. Removing the longsword from his grasp, she crossed his hands over his chest and sheathed the sword. His vital signs stabilized, so she transported them to her lair in the 'Dragon Tooth Mountains'.

King Thane was putting on the finishing touches before the ball and discussing last minute changes with his chamberlain when they heard a ruckus from outside the door. Metal on metal resounded through the closed door and then a scream. King Thane drew his sword, while Walton prepared a spell as the door to his private chambers burst open and six assassins, dressed all in black with faces covered by black cloth, rushed in. King Thane dispatched the first, and the mini fireball from Walton killed the second. King Thane parried a thrust from another assailant as still another slipped in under his defense and pierced his heart. Walton did not have time to cast another spell before he was cut down.

Thus ended the reign of King Thane Blackmoon.

Rac-Nur felt the power teleporting them back to Anastasia's residence and looked around, stood up, and helped the ladies to their feet. They were standing in the main hallway when the front door opened and Marcus entered along with several assassins, dressed all in black. Rac-Nur pushed the two ladies toward the stairs as he turned, pulling his swords.

Laura screamed in fright while Anastasia dragged her up the stairs to where her father had a special room designed for just such an emergency. Heading into her room, she dragged Laura up to a set of clothes hooks on the wall. Grabbing the second one on the right and turning one way then back again, opened a small doorway in the wall on the opposite side of her bed. After quieting Laura down, she pushed her down and Laura climbed through the opening with Anastasia behind. Anastasia closed the door and pushed a pressure plate locking it into place. Laura looked around in shock at the stocked room. Anastasia motioned for her to be quiet and moved to the opposite side and sat on the floor. Taking the coin out of her pocket she began rubbing it, thinking of Aaron.

Downstairs Rac-Nur was in a fight for his life. The assassins were good and pressing their advantage. Rac-Nur had killed two, but the other three had him flanked, and his only advantage was the high ground he had as he defended the stairs from the first step. Marcus had already fled upon seeing Rac-Nur dispatch the first two. The assassins were good, but Rac-Nur was not a clan first sword for nothing. Leaping up and somersaulting over the middle assassin while raking his back with both swords, Rac-Nur landed behind the other two. Dropping to one knee and thrusting forward simultaneously with his swords, Rac-Nur skewered the remaining attackers through their hearts. After checking to make sure the attackers were dead, he slowly and quietly climbed the stairs searching for his two charges.

Four squads of assassins, sixteen total members of the infamous Black Hand, crept through the streets of Realto and climbed over the wall onto the manor grounds. They broke up into two groups, one heading toward the barracks while the other approached the manor. Two more squads brought up the rear and headed toward the gates where they silently waited.

The fact that Master Caleb was a very light sleeper and slept next to the stalls caused the night to end differently for a few lucky souls. The horses heard the movement in the night and began to nicker and whinny, waking him in an instant. Looking out the window he saw several shapes moving across the grounds and hurried to the alarm bell, where he sounded the alarm.

"To arms! To arms!" he cried. "Intruders on the manor grounds! To arms! Protect the Duke and family!"

Guardsmen streamed out of the barracks and engaged the intruders that confronted them, holding them at bay. Several of the assassins broke off the attack and headed toward the manor's gates, where they attacked the guards, overwhelming and finally killing them. They then opened the gates, allowing more assassins to enter the grounds and move toward the manor house. Quickly, the guardsmen were overrun and killed.

Caleb threw on his clothes and grabbed his weapons and went out the back of his quarters and toward the manor house. Along the way he gathered several guards to him and continued to the back of the house where he approached a secret entrance. At the rear of the house he ran into Master Landon and another group of guardsmen.

Micah awoke to the sounds of the alarm being rung in the courtyard. Slipping on his clothes and grabbing his sword and belt, he went to his door and cracked it open. Guards were running down the hall and screams and shouts could be heard in the main hall. Closing the door he crossed his room, opened a secret passageway and entered it, closing the door behind him.

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