Wardens of Moog

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The sun, engorged and crimson, melted away. Night was coming upon the city of Charon. With it came a thousand faces of grinning death. The Wardens of Moog always attacked at night. Their ghastly masks were more ominous in moonlight.

The quiet horde alighted to Chiron's clay rooftops. Sprinting and leaping across them, then slipping down to the streets. There they seemed to vanish into shadows. After this, the only testimony to their existence was their screaming victims.

But one of the intruders remained above, springing from roof to roof until the death cries became a faint blend of anguish. One final landing and the destination was reached. Fingers and toes gripped the smooth, domed roof. No clay shingles here. Only the finest glass. The figure drew a small hammer, positioned a chisel, and struck.

The stained glass hissed as it fractured, but did not burst until a cloth-wrapped foot kicked it in. Shards rained. They poured onto a huge marble sphere suspended by iron arms; the massive idol of Gradearic, moon of retribution. What did not settle atop the religious artifice sprinkled down to the night duty priestess below. She did not notice the masked figure who dropped behind a dais and stole a small black orb from it. She was looking up at the broken roof in shock. This allowed her killer to creep up unnoticed. A long, curved dagger lifted. Startongue runes ran along its length. Words of power. Words of Moog, moon of guile. Leave it to the Trickster to steal life from the servants of Death.

The priestess shook her head at the desecration. "By the gates of Gradearic," were the last words she had time to speak. They were fitting as it was those gates she was about to enter. A shout for the temple guards choked. Her head jerked back and her voice box tore open.

Shout or no, the sound of breaking glass alerted the temple guards. Footfalls clomped toward the scene and faced the figure above the fallen priestess. The templar exchanged a look of surprise. During this time the other crouched into a ready stance. Two curved shortblades positioned. The lone figure was smaller, the well-armored guards of daunting size. But a battle was inevitable. There was no way around them.

The guards rushed forward, swords drawn. The was no coordination in their movements. No preparedness. No teamwork. The assassin waited, and at the last moment twisted away from the attack. One tried to adjust and pivot, but his boot slipped atop the priestess' blood and broken glass. He slammed into a pillar and recovered his ready stance. But by then it was too late. The warden of Moog was already digging a blade into his eye.

The guard dropped his sword to cover spurting gouts of blood. The other overcame his shock and began hurling insults along with his swinging broadsword. It came at the warden like a hammer. But the duel blades were there to deflect blow after blow until the intruder was forced to kneel. The guard smiled, leaning his weight forward and downward. He would crush this lithe little fool. But then the fool was gone, somehow leveraging away to the side and leaving the guard to topple. Afterwards came a series of clangs, whirls, slices, and finally a meaty slurp as agility and speed won out over the heavy sword and armor. Each dying man was finished with a cut to the throat. Their corpses dismissed, the figure turned back to the priestess.

Her robes had darkened from yellow to orange, soaked in the draining blood. The accompanying gurgle of open throats gave the impression of a bubbling spring. Death's fountainhead. A bloody pool spread almost to the foot-wrappings of the intruder. The figure stared down at it through an iron mask and close-fitting hood. The eye holes were wide so that high, tan cheekbones could be seen. Along one a single teardrop followed the track of a meandering scar. The mask's metal conformed to the brow, slid down along the bridge of the nose, then dipped to cover mouth and jaw before disappearing into the shadow of the hood. There were two vertical slits for nostrils and a horizontal one along the mouth.

A hand reached into dark green wrappings and produced a leather bundle. With a snap it unrolled. Tools of all sorts lined the kit. Vials, chisels, darts ... and a slender paintbrush. This was chosen. Kneeling, the assassin began to dab in the blood and write along the granite floor.

Moog suffers no other moons

Rising, the figure stepped around the bodies of the guards and halted. Eyes turned in their iron sockets. They turned toward a statue to the left.

A woman's voice, grim but clear, echoed through the mask's mouthpiece. "You are freed, young star. Go and shine."

The cowering creature stood; an emaciated slave with sunken cheeks and bold bones stretching his skin.

"And who shall I say has freed me, in case others agree not to your generous emancipation?"

There was a moment of silence as one side of her lips curled upward. Then "Grimlocke" was articulated through the mouth slit.

His eyes showed no recognition of the name, but he bowed low just the same. When he rose, the masked woman was gone. The young man shrugged and turned to grin at the corpses. He pilfered one of their greatswords and buckled under the weight. It took effort to right his slim form. There was no way he would be able to carry two. One sword would be conspicuous enough. As he made his exit, he barely missed the city's marshalry arrive on the scene.

The clomping of boots sounded in the temple. Then a curse issued from one of the marshalsmen. "Another graphic bloodletting, complements of Moog's tin-heads."

They walked toward the priestess and stared down at the bloody words painted across the stones. The impudence of it all left them speechless for a few heartbeats.

"What do we do with her body?"

"Leave it. She was an intercessor for Darkstar. Surely that makes her as comfortable in death as she was in life."

"The princess has mandated that no dead body linger. All must be burned."

"Princess? That girl is no princess, you fool. We'll leave this to that Councilman what's just arrived and his detective work. Now, we best keep on. The night is still young and these fiends have been painting the whole city in blood."

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