The sun had just risen to greet the day from its home behind the eastern horizon when Azael and Darke saw the Wharf of Killidane in the distance. From their vantage point in the hills west of the great city, the wharf was a marvel to behold with its thriving complex of docks and canneries, each bustling with people and ships. Nodding out on the open water, great steam freighters cast a glare to their eyes. Among them, frigates and caravels with taut sails slid gently into a docking course. Beyond them, in the east, barely visible in the twilight, lay the Isle of Katus.
For more than three centuries, the city of Killidane had risen around the docks to become one of the largest cities of Men on the continent. Its walls were well-guarded and strong. Armies had broken upon them without so much as leaving a mark. How a single creature, no matter how strong or fierce he might be, could get past those walls and the men that guarded them was beyond Darke’s ability to comprehend.
“You’re sure this is where that creature is headed?” Darke asked. “It seems awfully quiet down there.”
“I am certain,” Azael replied. “Killidane is the nearest port to Katus and the only coastal city within a hundred kilometers where he might procure a boat…and traveling by boat is the only way to reach the Guild of Thieves.”
“And how does this beast know Ven will be there?”
“Against all logic, Ven Islen has become a queen to the Katati,” Azael replied. “She will be at her king’s side…and King Brachius has not left the hall of his fathers for some time.”
“We should sail to Katus first,” Darke suggested. “If we warn them—”
“No. We’ll put an end to the threat before it crosses the water. The queen is not to know of this assault. Not ever.”
“Why not, Azael? What are you keeping from me?”
“You’ll understand soon enough,” the wizard replied. “The weapon I’ve given you is…quite special. It will serve to destroy the creature. Saints know no other weapon has managed to.”
“What makes you so sure that particular sword will prove any different?”
“I assumed you gave it to me for a reason,” Azael said. “And, as it was not entirely made by man, its…enchantment…gives me reason to hope.”
“Hmm. Well, we should at least get down to the western gate.”
“I can get us there quickly. The creature won’t try to approach the city until nightfall…and not even then, if he gets wind of us. We will use this vantage point to spot his approach, confront the beast, and strike him down before he reaches the gates.”
“This all seems incredibly personal for a man with few friends,” Darke said. “Care to fill me in?”
“Killing is always personal,” Azael said. “The act never comes without cost. Sometimes it is as little as a night’s sleep and, others, a piece of your soul. Either way, the decision to kill mustn’t be made lightly.”
“I prefer not to make it at all,” Darke argued.
“Then you will surely die young. This is not some children’s bedtime story, you broken fool. The risk of what we do today is great. The reward for its completion is not one we will share. We do only what we must to survive another day.”
“Surviving isn’t living, though, wizard.”
“No,” Azael agreed. “But every morning I again greet the dawn with breath in my lungs, the Dark Queen grows more afraid of me. Every day I evade her grasp is another she must wonder what I’m plotting and question if it might be the day I finally come for her. Such pleases me.”
“After what she did,” Darke said, his voice breaking at the unbidden memory, “I hope you give her hell.”
“The saints as my witness,” Azael said. “I mean to give her several.”