A Different Life
Father Mazeon held his nose and covered his mouth in disgust as he walked the stench filled alleys if the Blackcloud riverfront. He was somewhat envious of Pratt and Tinaca, who he had left back at the inn. They were being spared the current unpleasantness of the Blackcloud streets that the Councilman found himself in. On top of the usual filth and squalor the red rain continued to fall. The smog that encircled the Spire helped diffuse the downpour and the city below was filled with a thin bloody mist as a result.
It hit Father Mazeon hard just how familiar the smell of this city was. As soon as he stepped outdoors and breathed in a flood of memories came rushing back with palpable force. The Councilman trod thru old streets that he had not seen in many years but the crumbing walls and garbage filled paths were just as he remembered them. He pushed on down the street reflexively as he battled the swirling sea of emotions inside. Father Mazeon’s feet were falling into the old routs that they were accustom to walking. The journey was like walking back in time for the Councilman. He was attacked at every turn with painful reminders of the person that he used to be when he lived in this city. Even though it was more than ten years past and gone it felt to Father Mazeon like he had never left this cursed place. His spirt threatened to break.
As he walked he recalled the nightmarish darkness that had served as his childhood. Along the riverfront Father Mazeon saw the same old archways and door stoops where he had been forced to sleep as a boy. Those nights spent out in the dirt and cold were the earliest memories that the man could recount. The Councilman passed by the piers and wharfs where he had spent the days begging for coin and scrounging thru muck and trash for scraps of food. Father Mazeon shuddered and winced in shame as he walked by the dark alleys where he had spent his adolescence catering to the wants of men who had less than traditional lustful appetites. Down those same dark alleys he could hear the practiced and rehearsed moans of the women and boys who were engaged in the vocation that he had once used to survive. Father Mazeon’s sprit felt as dirty as his soot and grime stained body.
He didn’t realize that he was coming up on the building until it was too late. He had meant to avoid it but old habit had directed him to this spot. Father Mazeon looked up and saw the sign for the Hearthstone tavern. It was the place where the Councilman had first met Markus. In a single profound moment the man felt like he had been pieced thru the heart and cradled in warmth all at once. The best and worst moments of his life had played out in the buildings on this very street. The Councilman’s mind raced with a flicker of rapid images as he remembered all that he had buried in this place.
He recalled seeing Markus for the first time looking shy and timid all by himself at the Hearthstone’s corner table. Father Mazeon could describe every minute detail of that beautiful man. At the time the Councilman had been so nervous to speak and introduce himself to the boy who had ensnared his attention. Father Mazeon was near petrified with fear but somehow he had managed to bumble his way thru an introduction. Within the first few seconds of speaking to Markus the Father Mazeon knew that he was falling irrevocably in love with the stranger. The first night that they met was filled with awkward conversation. The Councilman remembered the sense of despair he felt after seeing Markus leave the Hearthstone the first time. He had asked himself if he put off the other boy and had scared him away for good with his social ineptitude. Father Mazeon felt a gentle glow in his chest as he recalled what it was like to see Markus return to the Hearthstone the very next night and meet his eyes. It had carried on like that for months, two lonely boys offering each other companionship and a sympathetic ear in the predatory underworld of Blackcloud.
The Councilman pulled his eyes from the sign and building-front of the tavern and let his gaze wander. It soon came to rest on the narrow side street that ran between what had been a cobbler’s shop and a chandlery. That murky little road was where Markus and he had shared their first kiss. Father Mazeon’s hands subconsciously went to his chest as he relived the moment before Markus had leaned in and met his lips. Now Father Mazeon resisted the urge he felt to weep from all the powerful history that confronted him.
The man’s eyes continued to look over the riverfront road. At last his view locked onto the small loft above the tailor’s shop. The Councilman had rented the room with the coin that he was able to put away. It was scarcely larger than a broom cupboard but to Markus and he, it had been like a palace. It was a sanctuary that offered the two invaluable respite from the ugliness of Blackcloud. They had spent countless hours sequestered away from the world finding bliss in each other’s arms. The pair of boys had bared their most intimate feelings to each other in that room. It was in the confines of that little loft that Markus had confessed his pedigree. He was the son of a noble family, the child of Duke Horvan in fact. The Councilman’s remembered happiness was turned cold as he thought of Markus’ father. He remembered being discovered in a lovers embrace with Markus by the Duke and his agents. The fear that he had felt in that moment was a sensation that had never fully left him. He only remembered bits and pieces of what had followed after the intrusion. It had been a flurry of insults, disgust, reprimands for Markus and threats towards Father Mazeon. The total story of a life lived and shattered played out before his eyes as he looked over all the buildings of the riverfront.
He could stand it no longer and forced himself to flee from this place for a second time. The Councilman all but ran down the dingy streets that led further into the dregs of Blackclould. He pushed all thought of Markus, and the heart break that his memory conjured, from his being. Father Mazeon clung to his role as a brother of the Vermillion Council and reminded himself of his duty to see Tinaca delivered into the safety of anonymity. While it had been woefully long since he last made this trip into the bowels of the city Father Mazeon still remembered the way. He only hoped that the woman that he sought could still be found where he had last seen her.
After a brisk jaunt thru the misty streets the Councilman came to the part of Blackoud that was forgotten by most. Here were the most inexpensive of taverns were the drink contained more water than sprits and the cheapest of brothels where the women were far past their prime. People only came to this part of the city if it was all that they could afford, with one exception. The only reason that someone who was not destitute would visit the district was to call upon the services of Madam Katrina or one of her kind. There was no name for the craft her type practiced but it was a wonder to behold. The woman could take someone, anyone, and see them transformed into a whole new person. The question of, how such a thing was done, remained a mystery. Many claimed it was a special kind of magic. A few steps more and the Councilman stood in front of the door that had seen the death of the boy who had fallen in love with the son of a proud nobleman and the birth of the man who would become Father Mazeon.
The place was just as he remembered it. It was like time had frozen this part of Blackcloud perfectly still. The Councilman took a moment to compose himself and then knocked on the shoddy wooden door of Madam Katrina’s home. There was no sound of movement form inside. A bank of candles dwindled in the cracked window next to the door so it was safe to say that the woman was home. Father Mazeon knocked on the door a second time with greater force. Ominously the wooden planks swung open and reviled a surprisingly tidy room that still held all the signs of someone living there. The Councilman was not able to see any trace of Madam Katrina inside. Above the rancid odor of the city he caught the smell of death in the air and it sent chills rippling across his skin. At once Father Mazeon knew that he had been a fool to come back to Blackcloud.
“And the Prophet said unto his followers, ‘Tread not where the inferno has been. You may yet step upon embers hidden in the ash that would blaze anew,’” came the unmistakable scratchy voice of Duke Horvan’s Master Assassin, Preed.
Father Mazeon turned towards the sound of the voice and saw the sleek black cloaked figure of the Duke’s trained killer slowly approaching him. The Councilman checked the other end of the ally they were in and saw a similarly black clocked figure coming from that direction. The Councilman broke into a cold sweat because he knew that for every predator you saw in Blackcloud there was one that you did not, so he was facing the prospect of four deadly men and no avenue of escape. “In his beloved name, may I assist you sir,” said Father Mazeon in a futile attempt to feign his way out of the oncoming conflict.
Preed laughed hoarsely and then spat a gob of phlegm to the street before speaking next. “Did you truly think that the red cloak and a different name would fool my master? He knew the moment you returned to this city. You go by Mazeon now, don’t you?”
“It all happened a life time ago. Surely…” Started the Councilman.
“Duke Horvan will never forget the scandal that your depravity caused his house. For all the twisted confusion that you worked on his son, the boy had to be married well below his station,” said Preed with scathing inflection as he drew closer and closer to the Councilman.
“What Markus and I shared was neither twisted nor depraved,” said Father Mazeon behind rage filled eyes and thru clenched teeth.
“Still a fool,” scoffed Preed. “I wonder fool, what could have been so precious that you would risk coming back here? You must remember what I promised to do to you where you ever to show you face in the Spire’s shadow again,” snarled the assassin as he drew a short blade for the sheath on his waist.
“You said that you would peel me from my groin to my brow, I remember. And for the reason I have come back to this vile place it to protect a young girl that is in my care,” retorted the Councilman.
“A young girl. I hope she is worth dying for you pathetic shell of a man,” said Preed with a malevolent grin.
The Councilman lowered the hood of his red robes and stared Preed straight in the eye. “She is absolutely worth dying for. I am Father Mazeon. I am a brother of the Vermillion Council. I am sworn to protect Argaia and all its people. I have done so for many years past and will do so for many years to come. I am he who serves,” said Father Mazeon with defiant pride as Duke Horvan’s executioners closed in on him.