It was early morning by the time he approached the small town perched precariously along the cliffs. The storm had long since calmed, bathing the world in an ethereal silence further stifled by a heavy fog that engulfed the snow-covered mountains and gorged itself on the first rays of the rising sun. The figure walked slowly through the town, his hood pulled low over his face so he could ignore the looks he got from the few people on the street. It didn't take him long to find the alleyway marked with an inverted Ankh, barely visible unless it was sought. He slipped into the alley and quickly found the door marked with the symbol. He closed the door behind him silently, not wanting to attract any more attention. The doorway led immediately down a steep flight of stairs—one that he had to grip to the walls to keep from slipping down.
At the bottom of the stairs, the hallway widened slightly, with outcroppings were it widened into full rooms. In the first room, two figures, in cloaks the same as the stranger's with the exception of a purple Ankh, stood around a woman in white and purple lying on a stone alter. One looked up and watched him as he walked by. The second room had four people with green embroidered coats crowded around a map, studying it intensely. They ignored the man as he strode by. The third room had a desk occupied by a woman with yellow trim on her cloak. He approached her, pulling a letter out of his pocket. She completely ignored him, more occupied with a book set on the table.
He cleared his throat and the woman looked up at him, an annoyed expression on her face. "What do you want?"
"Can you have this sent to Southern Base Ten?" he rasped out.
The woman sighed loudly. "I'll see what I can do."
"Fleta, do try to be more welcoming to our guests," another man said, entering the room. His cloak also sported a red Ankh, though the cloak' hems were trimmed in white, signifying him as a Commander. He turned his attention to the stranger. "The name's Commander Istvan Kedar. You must be the Croe Master from the Southern Groups, yes?" He grabbed the stranger's hand and shook it roughly. "I can't seem to remember your name, what is it again?"
"Rayner Xenophon," he answered.
"Ah, yes, now I remember," he paused. "Weren't you supposed to be here about four or five sets ago?"
"Yes, I had some difficulty with one of my targets."
"Well, that is likely a story for another day. I will have a trainee guide you to your room."
"Thank you, Commander Kedar."
The Commander left the room and a young boy entered to take his place. Like all the trainees, he wore a grey, unmarked coat with no hood. "Please follow me, Master Xen… Xeno… um."
"Don't worry about saying it correctly," Rayner said quietly, finding that if he kept his voice low it didn't rasp as much.
The boy nodded and started along the hallway, turning several times until they reached what Rayner assumed to be the sleeping quarters. There were no actual doors, just heavy curtains that covered the entryways to multiple rooms on both sides. "This is your room, Master…"
There was a brief moment of silence, just long enough that Rayner believed the child had left, startling him when the child yelled joyously, "When I grow up, I want to be just like you. Fearless, strong, living life with no regrets!"
Rayner winced as if physically attacked. "It's not all it may seem," he said quietly, just out of even his own hearing range. The trainee left without another word, allowing the curtain to fall back in place. Rayner took off his coat, throwing it on the bed and then collapsing beside it with a sigh. To his left, there was a closet where a newer, pale grey shirt and black pants—the typical clothing—hung.
He changed into the newer clothing, happy to finally get out of the blood-stiffened garments he had worn for the past weeks. The man pulled a letter out of his pocket, running a finger over the old, time-worn parchment. It had been in his pocket for so long that it no longer lay flat. He opened it, carefully, so as not to tear the thinner parts along the creases more than they already have. He read through the letter, despite the fact that he knew what it said; he knew what it said well enough that he could recite it without looking at it.
You wake up with no idea where you are, your only memories being of pain, and violence, and blood, and then blackness, darker than dark; the kind of black that scares the Nyght to hiding and kills the Dae before it even begins; the kind of black that lurks in the very shadow of the Shayds and burns the flaming centre of the Lyght; the kind of black that stalks the very recesses of your psyche and reduces your ill deeds to the pallor of innocence.
Rayner clutched the letter, unwilling and unable to read any further. Though, he still knew what it said, and knew that no matter how many times he read it and reread it, it would never change; those accursed words would still be there, mocking him with their truth. She is dead, she is dead, she is dead, and there is nothing that will change the fact that it's your fault.
Rayner folded the letter again and put it back into his pocket before standing and grabbing his cloak as he walked out of the room. He walked back out the way he had come from, and out into the frigid morning air. He did not stop there; his goal was to get lost. The town was not large in population, but it was large enough in its sprawl and twisting streets that it did not take long to for him to accomplish such a task.
The town had the same rustic nature as all the other towns he had been through during his travels in the Northern reaches, though these were probably the best-kept of those he had seen. The buildings were painted bright, warm colors, offsetting compared to the cold of the snow now layered upon the roofs. The streets were much busier than they had been when he first arrived, though, compared to the Southern towns in which he was born and raised, they weren't very busy. A set of guards walked by him; one glanced his way and nodded in respect. Rayner returned the favor before continuing on his way.
He debated stopping in one of the stores, as several of them were bakeries selling fresh bread, though stopped short upon the realization that he had no money, and had no idea of what currency was accepted. Throughout most of his travel, he had paid for food and board with manual labor or looking generally pathetic and having a knack for finding exceptionally hospitable people. When he had first started as an active member in the organization, he thought it may have had something to do with the symbol on his cloak, which, though the organization itself stretched over several countries with several hundreds of people to its name, many people did not fully understand its purpose. Rayner doubted many of the trainees even knew its purpose. He knew its purpose—or he was quite confident that he did; the purpose was purification, of all religions, removing those that did not follow the regulations despite having power over those that simply believed.
That's what he believed, because that's what he had been doing—that's who he had been killing since his first contract, which seemed so long ago despite the fact that it had been only three years. Three years since he had become a Master, two years since his world changed, and one year since he left Southern Base Ten to fill his quota. He had once been told he looked and acted older than he was, but now, he found he felt older.
It was midday by the time he found his way back to his room. On the bed, there was an envelope which Rayner already knew the contents of, though he still checked out of habit. Within it, there was his payment—an amount that was intended to last him until the next month but never did—and another sheet of paper with a coded list of names, places, and crimes. He separated the currency into several pockets in both his pants and his coat and hid the coded message in his boot.
He left without a word, as he usually did, as was expected.