“no… Please, don’t hurt me!”

Dankwart Von Alten found himself begging like a scared child behind his hysterical sobbing, spitting out clots of blood when he could.

“I’ll give you everything you want! Gold, diamonds, gems, but I beg you, let me go!” He was sitting on a wobbly chair still wearing his dressing gown, his hands had been tied behind his back with a thick, abrasive rope. Two red streams continued to ooze from his nose down into his mouth.

But the real concern that was afflicting the richest merchant in the town of Essen at that moment, was a nearly bald man with a wiry body who, standing in front of him, was staring at him with a joyful, light-hearted expression, in stark contrast to the countless slaughtered people lying scattered throughout the darkened corners of the room.

“I’m glad to see you more inclined to dialogue than your guards were, Mr. Von Alten,” commented the stranger, extracting one of the many thin knives placed in the bandolier tied around his leg. “I assure you that if you will relinquish what I am looking for, you will be free.”
A sinister grin appeared on his face while, with the tip of his knife, he began to engrave the back of his own hand.
Immediately, an identical gash appeared on the back of the merchant’s bound hand. Dankwart began to scream in pain.

“I must warn you; I did not come this far to ask for trivial trinkets like gold or diamonds. I am looking for something special, unique! An item that your workers found a few months ago in the old mine, the item that you have kept well hidden from everyone… well, almost everyone. I will ask you a simple question now, I hope the answer will be what I expect to hear.”

The assassin raised the knife away from his own hand, causing a sigh of pained relief from his prisoner. “Tell me,
where is the cube?

Faced with that difficult request, Dankwart Von Alten barely swallowed, “I really don’t kn…” Then the strange fellow stabbed the sharp blade in his own leg, the merchant screamed again in pain, observing with an incredulous expression a large wound opening in his leg.

“I’m afraid you have not understood the situation, Mr. Von Alten,” commented the stranger, without caring about the screams of agony that filled the vast bedroom, “so I want to give you one last chance to answer me. Where is the cube?“

The knife was jerked out as Dankwart nearly passed out. “In the name of God, okay… I’ll tell you…” he mumbled, now drenched in sweat and agony. “It’s in that closet, a fake bottom hides a secret compartment… the cube is there. Now please, don’t hurt me anymore!”

A satisfied smile lit the assassin’s face. “This is exactly what I wanted to hear,” he commented before opening the two doors of the huge wardrobe and starting his search inside.

“Striving to resist the pain, Dankwart tried to figure out from the sounds what was happening and, when the stranger showed himself holding a Blackstone cube, the rich merchant could not believe his eyes.” 

“What is that face, Mr. Von Alten?” asked the other, smiling in glee. “Please tell me that you didn’t really believe a ridiculous dart-shooting trap could be a trouble… now stop whining. You have given me what I asked, therefore, as I promised, you are free to go.” He expertly threw the knife through the air, cutting the ropes of his prisoner. “Now, however, get out of my sight.”

Dankwart stood still and incredulous for a few moments. Then he gathered all the energy he could muster and ran away, limping through the corpses strewn throughout his bedroom. But when he reached the door, he bumped into something massive that seemed to appear out of nowhere. The size was that of a man, although the features of his face appeared visibly feminine.
He had four muscular arms, a well-defined physique, completely naked but asexual, behind his back two imperious bat wings spread widely, barring the door. “Holy God!” Dankwart shouted terrified. The creature tilted its horned head to the side, revealing an annoyed expression. Then his four hands grabbed the petrified man’s arms, tearing them from the body as if they were made of paper. Poor Dankwart Von Alten screamed until his mutilated body fell to the ground lifeless, surrounded by the other corpses invading his bedroom and a large pool of his own blood.

“Tell me, is this not the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?” asked the man inside the room, totally enraptured by the reddish effigies appearing on the cube he was holding.

“The tastes of you humans have always been somewhat questionable, but yours are undoubtedly horrible.” the winged creature replied with a detached tone.

“Don’t be silly, my dear. Today we have recovered an artifact of which very few know the immense power,” commented the man, noting with a finger the perfect smoothness of the corners. “It is said that the darkest secrets of magic are hidden inside.”

“If you say so…” said the other, yawning in boredom.

“Look!” suddenly exclaimed the balding man, staring at a strange luminescent effect inside the cube that also emitted a sinister hiss. Immediately after, however, everything became quiet “Did you see that rose, my dear?”

“Today you are raving even more than usual. There was no rose in that object,” the follower replied with an unfriendly air. “And please, see you don’t call me «my dear» anymore. If only you weren’t tied to your damned arcane bond, now you’d lie bleeding on the ground along with all these other wretched humans.”

“It had large dark petals, with veins of embers, and seemed to grow among the rubble of a large building.” the man continued with a dreamy air, disinterested in idle threats.

The seductive monstrosity shook his massive head. “You are completely crazy.”

“A sweet voice spoke to me. We must go to Italy… to Turin.”

“I hate that place, as indeed I hate your whole filthy world.”

Ignoring his pet’s complaints, the man commanded, “We will leave at dawn.”

“And you know well that I cannot tolerate the sunlight.”

Yes, that black rose… it will be the most beautiful object in my collection.”

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