— A Mere Glance into the Absolute Series through the Inner Universe of Aalenstar —
it is a true warrior who can feel the pain of his deeds and not hate himself nor the world for which he fights. – Falcon Agency Leadership Philosophy Vol. I
Makael Trevs-el leaned closely to the black-barked townin tree beside him. The stench of the tree’s sap hid his own scent. Townin leaves were used to alleviate stomach pain and headaches but their natural odor was appalling. The musky roots smelled like tarnished sulfur soot while the sap oozed dragon’s raunchy firebreath. It was why Mak had chosen this grove to complete his mission.
The Rinklings appeared out of the looming cave mouth and Mak straightened. He had been waiting for their appearance for hours. He brushed sweaty tightly-curled black hair off his forehead and back into the natural, thick mohawk that stood up a few inches off his brow. His ears were a little less round and shorter than full-blooded Torquen ears. Though he was only half-Torquen, he had the typical piercing electric blue eyes that slanted slightly. His honey-colored half-Tevla skin was slick with the moisture in the air of the rainforest planet.
There was a wide meadow gap between Mak’s position in the forest and the cave from which the Rinklings exited. It was the perfect place to strike.
Rinklings stood easily on two legs but could drop to four and run faster than most two-legged Mortalis. They had wide, round eyes far too large for their cat-like faces. Their tails whipped behind them, strikingly longer than their legs with fat white and burnt red rings looping around the black fur. They had sharply pointed ears that twisted rapidly, able to distinguish bees from hornets in the lofty treetops far above their heads. They could also hear the slightest whisper of an arrow being drawn back on a bow, so Mak was using every ounce of his magical stealth and strict Falcon training to remain unnoticed.
The SoulTrade couldn’t function without mercenaries like Rinklings. They were one of the few species with the ability to capture the souls of the departed rather than taking them into their own qwaneduns. They could deqwane a Mortali, ripping out the qwanedun from the Mortali’s chest, and throw it in a pressurized glass jar, leaving the Mortali in a half-dead stupor, unable to move, think, or experience true life but still not be dead. Rinklings could do this to humanoids, dragons, Yarnis, mingriffs, aragna, Surans, and many other species. All the Mortalis were potential fodder for the SoulTrade. The qwanedun would be kept safe for transport to a catalysation center where the soul would then be reaped and used to create the Catalyst drug. After deqwaning the Mortali, the Rinkling could kill the being with no fear of having a soul enter his own, which would just waste perfectly good Catalyst Source material.
Torquens were also gifted with this power. Mak wished he had the ability, but he did not as he was only half-Torquen. When he killed a Mortali, their soul entered his, in supreme violent action. True, absorbing a Mortali’s soul surged power in a way rarely experienced; rarely experienced unless you were a warrior pledged to kill. If he had full Torquen ability, he would be able to capture the soul and lay it to rest rather than undergo the Hauntings. A choice he would always have taken, for the Hauntings were their own type of death.
This cave was a vault for qwanedun souls in their tangdom holders, encased in glass jars after being stripped from the chests of Mortalis. It had taken Mak nearly five months to discover its location. He had ventured undercover into Cat Bars, had followed Rinklings to their various hideouts, had hidden in lofts during merc meetings, risking detection and certain death many times.
He was a Falcon Trinpiercer: an assassin. It was his duty to risk death while seeking the death of others. His skill had been recognized and developed early at Falcon. He had found shelter with the Agency at only eight-Lines-old, joining two years younger than the official age. In the seven Lines he had trained at Falcon, they had molded him into the effective, inspiring, and dangerous leader that Falcon held most dearly.
The Rinklings were laughing at a crude joke and completely unaware of the danger awaiting them. This group was brutal. They were dangerous addicts to the Catalyst in league with the Crep.
Stoki was walking at the lead. He was the one to be killed. He had led the deqwanation of an entire troop of Falconmembers at a remote base on the planet Semien. Semien was on the edge of the Inner Universe at the border with the Unknown Planets. The Falconmembers had been mainly scientists, terraformers, and space explorers. Stoki had killed them and stolen their qwaneduns. The qwaneduns needed saved so that their killed bearers could find their rest. The souls would settle quickly while in holding at Falcon in the Stars and wait for the next child of their family line to be born. They would no longer fear being used to create the Catalyst, which would mean a release into the Trinity magic, dissipating into the space-time fabric, becoming forgotten and inaccessible for eternity.
Falcon had put Stoki at the top of the Destined To Die list. Falcon had sent one of their youngest, but one of their most skilled, assassins to do the deed.
Mak was not excited to receive the souls of Rinklings into his qwanedun but he knew it was necessary. He would need the halogen power of at least one kill to transport the sealed qwaneduns.
The plan was to kill Stoki, then slip into the cave to teleport away the qwaneduns. He might be young, but Mak had no doubt that he would succeed in his mission.
Mak drew back his bow and nocked the poison-tipped arrow to its string. Though he was a highly-trained sorcerer, most assassinations were carried out through traditional weapon usage. It took halogens to use magic and it also disrupted the Trinity in such a way that might be more easily sensed by one’s mark, giving them a chance to defend themselves. Mak sighted in. Stoki stopped and stretched his taut body to the sun. As he brought his broad chest around, full square with Mak’s arrow, Mak released with a calm exhale. It was too easy.
The arrow flew swiftly through the trees and across the meadow, sinking deep within Stoki’s chest, right beside his qwanedun and through his beating heart.
Stoki tumbled to the ground, horror on his face as death greeted him.
The other two Rinklings dropped to all fours, teeth bared, snarling. They raced off into the trees across the meadow from Mak. They abandoned their fellow mercenary and ran from the sniper.
Meanwhile, Stoki’s soul lifted from his body, a slight purple wisp of magic. It seemed to sniff a moment at the air, testing where the killer was, then it streaked at full speed into the townin trees and plummeted into Mak’s qwanedun.
Mak crashed back against the reeking tree trunks and into the soft ferns at their feet. He fought for breath and his limbs spasmed as the Rinkling’s soul settled in his qwanedun. He leaned back, eyes closed, clenching his fists. The impact of the soul resounded within his body.
Stoki’s shock at being killed began sinking into its magical depths within Mak. The Hauntings would begin quickly. Mak’s qwanedun, Flyte, sent soothing vibes through his body. Stoki must have recently Catalyzed. The hit of his soul through Mak’s body was extreme. Mak grasped the mottled trunk of the townin tree and regretted it as its foul sap oozed between his fingers, sneaking under his fingernails. He rubbed his hand on his pants, grimacing at the grit and frustrated at the fleeting thought, damnit to all the Parallels but now I will need to wash them as soon as I get back to Falcon. He stood. He needed to finish his mission before the other Rinklings returned.
Mak draped a magical misdirection that made him essentially invisible and jogged across the meadow into the cave. He wasn’t only relieved back into his normal competencies, he was empowered with the rumbling soul of a Rinkling SoulTrader.
Rinklings were DarkSights so the cave was pitch black and they didn’t care. In contrast, Mak could not see a thing. He breathed a small light into his palm and held it aloft.
He saw no cases of qwaneduns, just a melting ice block with a dozen small fish sunk into it, various supplies and weapons, and fern-lined sleeping nests. The cave wound to the left. Mak was frustrated to have to enter so far but he jogged around the corner of the cave, seeing his way with the light and running his hand across the smooth rock of what was once a volcano’s pathway for lava.
Mak’s jaw dropped in grim shock. There were twelve large crates with at least fifty souls each. They were ready for transport, prepared to be taken by the Crep to some Cat Center in the Inner Universe.
Surely some of these qwaneduns were those of the killed Semien Falconmembers. Mak didn’t know where the others came from, but the Talon qwanedun chambers would keep them safe until their family lines could be identified. They all needed their peace.
Mak stepped to the crates and flared a light blue magic wrap around them, one at a time. They raised into the air, then sparked out of sight and away through the space-time fabric to Falcon techs awaiting their arrival at FStars.
The power to Pulse was one of the most prized advantages of Tasting the Catalyst. It enabled a sorcerer or sorceress to teleport an object through the Trinity space-time fabric. It had not been Makael who had Tasted. It had been his Torquen mother. She had been the one to convince his Tevla father to leave Eans Orlwen and join the Crep forces…Mak flinched as he thought of that legacy. They had disappeared into the addiction and then death by the Catalyst when he was only four-Lines-old. He had been taken into the arms of Zache Byrone at that time, adopted by the entire community of Tevlas in Eans Orlwen.
Mak was impressed by how much halogen potential remained in his qwanedun when he had finished Pulsing the crates. He had hoped to extinguish all of Stoki’s powers, but he could sense that the Rinkling was still with him. Stoki had definitely recently Tasted, or killed a Mortali, for his presence to still be so strong. Mak checked as far back in the cave as he could go to see if there were more crates. When he saw there were none, he slipped back out of the cave, grabbing an apple from the Rinkling’s supplies.
Mak tossed the apple into the air and caught it with his other hand as he stepped into the bright sunlight and sweet grass of the meadow. He had no need to drape himself in invisibility any more. He felt dangerously invincible. He knew it was just the warranted happiness of a finished mission. And the dangerous exhilaration of taking a Mortali soul into one’s own.
One more job complete, one more assignment killed, one more commendation by Falcon to come.
Mak took a bite of the apple and looked down at Stoki’s body. He felt the rumbling of Stoki’s soul in his qwanedun. Mak knew that the Hauntings would come soon and they would not be easy to battle. The callousness and cruelty that Stoki had displayed all his life would continue to exist with his death. Mak would be the one that would be touched by it, Haunted by it, scarred by it. He would be the one forced to overcome it.
It would not be easy, but then, Mak’s job was never easy.
He was a Falcon assassin.