A Moment of Silence

City of Corvis, The Longest Night, 593 AR

He knew if he waited long enough for it, the shot would come, but the rapidly diminishing daylight was threatening to make his task ever more difficult.

He could smell the fragrant smoke of the incense burning in the chapel downstairs, as it wafted up to his precarious perch in the belfry of Morrow's cathedral. It reminded him of how much he'd invested in this affair. Gods, how he'd grown to hate that smell! But, alas, the job required it--at least if it were to be done properly.

There it was; the opening he'd been looking for. To most, it looked like a small window in one carriage in a nigh endless procession of carriages that were slowly making their way up Still Street during the inaugural hours of the Longest Night festival. To the marksman, it was a yawning chasm, wide enough to fire a cannonball through, much less a single bullet.

The gray-white dappled pigeon that had been comfortably perching for the last ten minutes on the barrel of his rifle cooed softly. It preened the feathers beneath its left wing as a bead of sweat formed on the rifleman's brow and slowly, inexorably made its way down the length of his seemingly lifeless face. Soon, Lady Thislaina Harlow would be widowed, and Kell Bailoch would be the pleased owner of the mechanikal rifle in his hands. He'd already given up two months of his life for this singular job. He was more than ready to be done with the whole situation. Just this one last kill for that damnable wizard and his debt would be paid in full.

A few short weeks ago, one "Timmon Forsborund" had approached the priests of the church, beseeching them to allow him sanctuary. He wished to make penance for his sins against the good folk of Cygnar. The holy men asked little about his past. They looked deep into his heart with their divine magics and saw what they hoped to find, a truly tormented soul in need of saving.

What fools they were! In their idiotic faith in the "inherent goodness of men," the clerics failed to see what stood before them: a stone-cold killer who would use and discard them as so much rubbish.

"Brother Timmon"bade his time and paid his dues; toiling in the gardens, aiding the poor and infirm, attending the expected services, and suffering the priests' endless, droning benedictions. He was the ideal acolyte, loyal and unswerving in his devotion to Morrow. Timmon walked the myriad dark halls of the cathedral, memorizing the layout of the entire building, and committing it to memory out of necessity. The infiltrator learned every torch-lit passage and chamber of the vast yet humble cloister just like he knew his preferred rifle, a weapon dubbed Silence by his current employer.

At one time, Silence was called by another moniker, the name of a former paramour, but that was long ago. It was just as well, as he was done with the outdated title, just as he was long done with she who bore that same name. The rifle's new name seemed fitting, as the gun now made no sound at all, ever. Even the comfortable ch-chink sound it made when it was cocked was muted entirely. Never again would he hear the satisfying CRACK! of its report, the inevitable prelude to a gratifying kill and another victim silenced forever. He could even drop the thing to the flagstones below--as if he ever would--and it would make not a sound. With such a weapon, all he had to do was stay hidden. Silence took care of the rest.

It had been simple enough to sneak it into the temple. Prior to his acceptance into the church, he had dissembled the rifle, hiding the parts in various locations near the cathedral. During frequent trips to the Quad to purchase produce and other rations for his "brothers," he quickly stole into an alley or other locale to retrieve another small piece of the firearm. Within a few weeks time, he had the entire weapon, and plenty of ammunition, in his chambers at the church. It had almost been too easy.''''

Long had Kell Bailoch been at this profession, that of a hired killer from afar. Indeed, he had killed for jealous husbands and ambitious politicians alike, always hitting his mark. Now, it seemed, he was indentured to one man. He liked it not at all. Gone were the simple days of roaming the countryside in the company of his fellow mercenary brothers, seeing and experiencing the best the world had to offer. Even in the days following the disbandment of the Talon Company, he had been a free man. A completely average looking man, he had the uncanny ability to blend in to any crowd and walk by familiar faces unnoticed. He didn't have to flee to the darkest corners of the Kingdoms like some of his comrades; he'd simply stayed put, relatively.

It was during those lonesome days following the Talons' disbandment that he hit upon the idea of combining two of his former vocations into one that he could make an "honest" living at. Before Bailoch's mercenary days, he was a rifleman in the Cygnaran army for ten years. He'd learned the value of firearms as a precious element in a modern army, but it was his days as a sniper with the Talons that he'd truly honed and refined these skills. The enemy often loses resolve after witnessing their commander's chest erupt in a shower of blood as a well-placed bullet pierces his finely crafted armor. Ah, how Bailoch reveled in the power he'd held, the purity of a clean kill. There was never any blood on his hands or his weapon--at least not literally--the only cleaning necessary was that which his rifle required.

Several years into his career as a sniper-for-hire, Bailoch was casing a job in Mercir when a mysterious wizard approached him. The perpetually cowled spellcaster was recruiting "vagabonds" for a mission into some ruins in the foul lands of Cryx. He was in search of a mythical sword called the Witchfire. Bailoch cared nothing for this wizard or his fabled blade, only that he got paid well for the trouble, as he'd given up the easy money in Mercir for this seemingly more profitable job. There was one catch, however. The wizard would need to borrow his rifle for an extended period of time, to lay certain magics on it. He wished to ensure that the racket created by the firing of the weapon would not endanger the mission. While the idea seemed preposterous to Bailoch, if it worked the payoff would be invaluable. The wizard seemed to realize this also, as Bailoch was paid in coin for the Cryx mission and also contracted for certain missions "to be named later." As if the loss of the one thing that brought him coin wasn't enough! Before he knew it, Bailoch had become a virtual slave to the haughty wizard whom he would later come to know as Dexer Sirac, head of the Inquisition.

The rifle was returned to him weeks later with its new abilities and appellation, none the worse for wear. Sirac had made a few required modifications to the original design, which made Bailoch leery. The original barrel, which bore the inscription of Bailoch's former lover's name, had been varnished over and was now stamped with many indecipherable arcane runes. Sirac had assured him that the modifications were a necessary ingredient in the magical process and that the script would have only positive effects on the rifle's performance. Sirac would soon have the chance to prove the validity of his statement.

The subsequent mission to Cryx was not a total failure; Bailoch and three others returned with their lives, and Sirac had his sword. Silence had lived up to both their expectations, performing admirably in the extended foray into the monster-haunted lands. During the voyage to Cryx, Bailoch discovered that every member of the troop had been contracted just as he had; coin up front and unnamed services in the future. The unspoken threat of death upon nonpayment was always hanging over all their heads.

Months after that harrowing mission, he'd found that he was the only surviving member left, aside from Sirac. He had no doubt the wizard was responsible for the deaths of the others. They were apparently found lacking in their ability to pay off their obligation. But not Bailoch, he'd carried out every assassination Sirac ordered, without complaint or question, and there were never any loose ends. Maybe the silenced weapon was the edge he needed to keep him in Sirac's good graces, or maybe he was just that damn good.

"So many kills for this blasted wizard... and this'll be the last,"he thought. "Gods willing..."Under the circumstances, he'd probably do well not to invoke any gods, he reasoned as an afterthought. Alas, it was too late now. After infiltrating the holy grounds of Morrow, an invocation or two was the least of his blasphemies. Snorting softly, Bailoch dismissed the idea.

On the right side of the carriage window he suddenly spied the flushed, corpulent face of Dorien Harlow. He was pouring some fine Cygnaran brandy for his ladylove, Thislaina. Not a bad sort, this Dorien, Bailoch found himself thinking. Hell, as far as Bailoch knew, the man was a veritable Archon when compared to many of Corvis' councilmen.

Indeed, the only thing that doomed the man was his siding with the portion of the council that opposed Ulfass Borloch, an obsessive man whose desire to execute a coven of witches apparently took priority over a myriad number of things, including the continued breathing of anyone who stood in the way of this desire. So, Dorien Harlow became the center of attention when his waffling delayed the trial by several days. After a long week of rigorous deliberation and courtship from both sides of the issue, the councilman reached a decision: he joined the less reactionist side of the argument. Harlow decided that the city should approach the coven's trial with "a level head." The trial was bogged down in the days following Harlow's decision. And then Dexer Sirac once more came calling. It appeared he had a stake in all of this, and he wanted the trial rushed along, with the ultimate conclusion being the destruction of the infamous Corvis Coven.

"Destroy this man who opposes me, and the trial and subsequent execution will result in the termination of our contract. This, I swear," Sirac had said, and Bailoch intended to make sure it was so.

Harlow's stout head was reared back in a fit of laughter when the bullet exploded in his brainpan. The decanter he had been holding burst upon falling from his grasp, and Thislaina was showered in bits of gray matter and brandy. Quiet as a whisper, aside from the wet sound of Harlow's skull shattering, the sight must have been an awfully distressing one for the poor lady. Her shriek pierced the twilight, followed compulsively by several others. The screams were barely heard above the din of people enjoying the burgeoning festivities of the Longest Night. They probably would have been ignored altogether if the now-widow hadn't come tumbling from her carriage, covered in blood and gore, retching onto the slick cobblestones, then hiking her skirts, and running in the general direction of her manse. The mood of the crowd immediately shifted from one of celebration to one of panic as the revelers witnessed the blood-soaked, nearly headless corpse of Dorien Harlow dangling from the open door of his carriage. People scattered in a haphazard dash to safety, none of them really knowing where it may lie.

The fluttering pigeon and large puff of gunsmoke went unnoticed by the crowds below. The small cloud thinned and dissipated, joining the pall of ever-present steam and smoke that loomed over Corvis. Kell Bailoch dissipated into the Corvis night, as well. Soon enough, the verdict would be handed over, and the coven of witches sentenced to whatever fate awaited them. It was not Bailoch's concern. His duty to Sirac was done, and Silence was his reward. As for the reserved and diligent Brother Timmon Forsborund, he was not seen at the Cathedral of Morrow ever again.