The desert sun outside was blazing hot, however, inside the shade of the canvas tent, the air was musty but cool. A faint buzz of sandflies punctuated the gentle whistling of the sandy wind. Affixed to the beam of the tent was a rusty cage inside of which was a songbird. She couldn’t quite make out what color it was due to her short stature. The caged avian twittered as it fluttered its wings, expelling a stream of musical notes that reminded the girl of an oasis, serene and gentle. The chirps washed over her ears like clean water. The day was just beginning as the sun began its odyssey across the sapphire sky. Today would be a good day to play with the other kids in the tribe. She stepped out of the tent, the call of the songbird still faintly ringing…
Than the bird was drowned out by cries from around the camp
Anka awoke from her bed with a start, and on pure instinct flung a shimmer-infused blade she always kept hidden in her pillow. The crystalline dagger cracked the mirror in her room creating a spider web of cracks across the pane.
She gazed at the broken reflection staring back at her, fractured and fragile like her present psyche. It had been several years since that day and yet Anka could still remember crystal-clear. She took a deep breath and got out of bed, wiping some of the cold sweat from her forehead.
The sun shone through her open window uninvited, but she welcomed it’s warm radiance anyways. It was a clear day in Gythia. Unlike the harsh glare of the sun in the shimmer, the sunlight here was gentle; illuminating the assortment of Gothic domes and spires that jutted out amongst the greenery and rustic monuments. A network of cascading waterfalls and canals only added to the beauty of this ancient splendor.
It was all so different from the blinding sands, emerald churn fog and petrified trees that dominated the Shimmer.
The chime of a bell brought Anka out of her contemplation and she went to get properly dressed.
She picked out her uniform of choice: a deep-purple bodysuit with lavender streaks and straps, complete with a foam green hood gilded in golden edges. She pulled on a pair of gloved sleeves that matched her suits color tone and a pair of knee-high leather boots.
Gazing ruefully at herself in the broken mirror, Anka could see four versions of herself, splintered and imperfect. She formed her face into a monolithic slab, devoid of expression. With a sigh, she walked briskly to the door and opened it.
A woman in the green dress of a paladin’s acolyte stood before Anka and greeted her with a bow.
“Greetings Peacemaker,” the acolyte began saying “the paladin requests your presence in her office.”
“Understood, I shall depart immediately,” Anka replied in a formal tone trying not to express the eagerness in her heart. “May I ask which paladin requires my services?”
“The office of the Paladin specifically requested that you talk with her in private mistress.”
Ah thought Anka internally smiling, So Mother requires my services once more
“Very well, in that case, I will travel as quickly as possible.”
The acolyte did not reply, but only bowed in a formal manner before turning around and walking away quietly. Anka stood there in the doorway for a moment and thought she could hear the faint twittering of a familiar creature at her window where the sage willow was.
Walking back into her bedroom, Anka removed the crystalline blade still embedded in her cracked mirror and holstered it on her thigh straps. She then turned once more to look at her reflection while putting the palms of her hands against her face and started pushing upwards the muscles in her cheeks. She distorted and molded her face until she got the proper expression she wanted.
Smile number 2 seemed to be just perfect for meeting Mother as the reflection returned Anka’s expression of facsimile joy.
A few minutes later, Anka arrived at the Gythian Cathedral and made her way down the hallway walking past the rows of pews. Light poured from the intricate stained-glass windows that dominated the vantage illuminating the figure kneeling by the altar. Anka quietly walked up to the person who was deep in prayer and knelt down on one knee lowering her head.
“You called for me Mother?” Anka asked, trying to mask her excitement behind her smiling mask.
The figure, adorned in the plate armor of a Gythian Paladin rose up and turned around to face Anka. It was a woman with long curled scarlet hair. She looked down upon Anka with a serene yet firm expression and paused for a moment before speaking. Her voice was authoritative yet soothing.
“Rise, my Daughter, we have much to discuss.”
The paladin gestured towards a hallway leading away from the main altar.
“Come, we shall talk along the way”
Anka rose up and followed the paladin down the hallway without a word. She could see clearly that Mother was troubled by something.
As they slowly walked through the hallways the paladin spoke first
“I’m afraid that I may have to place a great burden on your shoulders, my child,” The paladin began eyeing Anka.
“There is yet another sad soul that we must ask you to eliminate for Gythia’s sake”
“Than it shall be my burden to bear as Peacemaker, Mother,” Anka replied without hesitation dropping her formal tone. An eagerness to please and serve permeated her voice.
“I’ve helped relieve many of Gythia’s burdens and I will continue to carry out my sacred duty. Tell me who I shall silence.”
With a sigh, the paladin looked at Anka with a sad smile. “Few in Gythia know about your invaluable contributions to our peace and prosperity, yet those that do know have nothing but gratitude for you.”
“I am simply repaying kindness with kindness Mother,” Anka replied humbly trying her best to maintain her serene face.
“Those who seek to cause strife and grief to my adopted home, I promise will meet the cold steel of my blades, and be shown no mercy”
She bit out those last few sentences with fierce resolve glowing in her eyes, her voice as sharp as blades.
“I have no doubts about your abilities Anka, considering your perfect track record and a fearsome reputation as ‘Gythian’s Promise’, however, the burden this time is not just the enemies that seek to challenge Gythian expansion, but also a personal burden on your heart.”
Anka was silent for a moment. Of all the people in Gythia, Mother was the sole person who knew her best. After all, it was Mother who rescued Anka many years ago amidst the Shimmer. For the paladin to mention matters close to Anka’s heart…
“I’m sorry but I don’t quite understand?” She managed to stammer out, her smile slipping and a look of dread starting to replace it.
Anka understood perfectly what the paladin was talking about.
“Several years ago, the Aurellians launched an expedition into the Gattarra region of the Shimmer in order to secure a halcyon well located there. A neighboring desert tribe stood between the technologists and their objective and the order was given to eliminate them. Thankfully, a Gythian expedition was nearby to assist the survivors.”
At the mention of Gattarra, Anka bristled as her fists clenched audibly and her eyes glittered like luminous orbs.
The sound of the songbird drowned out by cries all around the camp, fires everywhere, lumbering metal demons spitting green energy…
“And this relates to my target in what way mother?” Anka managed to say as she struggled to maintain her calm demeanor.
“That event was a long time ago.”
“Because the man whom you are targeting my child, was responsible for ordering the elimination of that particular desert tribe.”
The sudden revelation hit Anka square in the gut as she instinctively let out a gasp. So that was what Mother was so dearly concerned about. Her target would not simply be a political target that she felt no real connection to. She suddenly had an opportunity she had dreamed of for so long in her grasp.
“He is Marcus Tobia, colonel of the 26th Autonomous Regiment, he possesses high-level ties to New Aullerium. He’s been directing worrying troop movements closer to Gythian borders and our intel suggests knocking him out will spread disarray and give Gythia temporary superiority to plan our next move.”
Anka was still absorbing the implications of the man who had a negative impact on her life while the paladin continues talking. She was thinking of all the crimes and wars that the technologists had perpetuated and how many lives were ruined by their zeal to innovate. A silent rage shimmered within her not because of what the technologists had done, but that now it was personal. Finally, she summoned the power to speak calmy once more.
“I appreciate your concern Mother, but I assure you that my past will not affect into my mission objectives,” she uttered in a cold steel-edged voice.
The paladin nodded in acknowledgment seemingly convinced.
“This mission must be done in a discreet as possible manner so as to sow paranoia among the high-level technologists. You will need to strike surgically with precision and ensure that the technologists do not catch onto you. And also one more thing,”
She produced a small wooden box and handed it over to Anka.
“We will require proof of the deed once you accomplish your assignment. Remove your mark’s vision and place them into this box. Do you have any questions?”
Anka shook her head quietly as she took the box in her hands and stowed it away.
“No Mother, I understand what I must do now.” She said quietly as she turned away and started walking back towards the altar.
“If you would excuse me I must make preparations to leave at once.”
The paladin nodded and watched as the young assassin walked further and further away.
“May the light of the seraphim guide you, my Daughter, I bless thee”
But Anka was already long on her way.
Grace looked on as the hooded assassin briskly walked away. There was a gentle tap of feet as one of her acolytes walked up to her and bowed.
“Yes, what is it?”
“The Archmage Lora wishes to know if you have assigned the Peacemaker onto the mission in question?”
“Yes, Anka is making preparations and will leave for the technologists at dusk. Tell the Arch-mage that everything should be taken care of soon.”
The acolyte nodded and started walking away before stopping and turning around.
“You may speak.”
“Do you think it was wise to reveal the connection the target has with the Peacemaker? Her past could compromise her profession and her efficiency.”
Grace only smiled, neither sincere nor malicious.
“She will have to decide for herself what really matters and in turn, be judged accordingly. She is still trapped in her past for all these years despite the new purpose we have given her. Now she must truly escape the cage of her past, like a songbird flying free of captivity.”
The acolyte seemed puzzled by this but Grace continued on.
“The light will guide her only so far. but I have faith in her conviction, and my faith has not yet been misplaced.”
With that, Grace made her way down the hall towards her office, where more pressing matters awaited her presence.