Cometh the inquisitor

Rath Corsair: Courtyard
A large softly-lit courtyard splits the Rath Corsair, and a huge artesian-fed fountain sits in the middle of the courtyard. The fountain depicts the slaying of the Gondorian King Minardil by the Corsairs in T.A.1634--one of Umbar's greatest victories. A circular lawn surrounds the fountain and several stone benches provide a place for conversation and rest. A grand and ornate building lies to the west, and the dark remains (much out of place here) of a ruined tower lie to the east.
The sky is clear and the sunlight shines brightly. The early afternoon autumn air is hot around you. The moon is waxing gibbous.

Another evening descends upon Umbar, as the light of day fades even from the horizon. There's a small group from Flame Tower -- the ever-present guards for the young lady A'anekha. She's trying her best to ignore them, seated on the ledge of the fountain. Her interest seems more in watching the stars pop out one at a time, reflected in the shimmering water just below her.

The night carries others along with it, other than the delegation from Flame Tower... namely, the Inquisitor Ullaq, clad in his black robes and crimson sash, and waited upon by a half-dozen Citadel Guards, he arrives in the center of the City. Spying the girl at the fountain, he slowly approaches, bowing to her, "Prophetess."

And last but not least, enter Yasmina, alone and without any delegates, servants, jesters nor guards. She walks alone, sporting a lovely black eye and a swollen lip, and torn dress to boot.

Roused from her reverie, A'anekha looks up at the Inquisitor approaching her. Lips purse slightly beneath her veil, but the expression fades soon enough, replaced with something far more neutral. "Inquisitor," she murmurs blandly, rising to her feet and granting the man a nod of her own. She observes the heavy presence of Citadel Guard, an eyebrow arching slightly, but she does not inquire -- not yet, anyways.

The light of the day fades and yields to the night, the air cools as a welcome breeze brings relief from the scorching heat. Skies darken, and stars come out, dim at first. Bustling of day gives way to the the deceptively quiet night, disrupted occasionally by sudden shouts or cries, calls of guards and soldiers, and quick footsteps.

The air cools fast, becomes chilly. Darkness deepens, but the stars do not become brighter, their cold light reaches down through a dark haze which creeps along the ground. Breeze, no longer a welcome relief, feels like gripping icy fingers reaching through the creeping darkness. All sounds fade, at first drowned by the wailing of many dogs, then the creeping dark shrowd miffles even their desperate voices, and only the drumbeat of iron-shod hooves on the stony road remains, painfully clear in the sudden silence, approaching.

"We of the Citadel have heard of your pronouncement," Ullaq says, in a thick, honeyed voice, "In fact, that corresponds to both our wishes and auguries." The man smiles, his grin wide and unforced, "Have you also come to welcome the Silent One to..."
The Inquisitor's voice stops and he glances to the sky. "He COMES!" he exclaims, motioning the Citadel Guard to sheath their weapons which were drawn in haste and excitement...

Yasmina jumps at the sudden cry, and she too, instinctively looks skyward, not knowing who spoke those words. She scans the darkened sky with her one open eye, and even though the night is dark.

"I didn't intend to be here, I didn't know to be here," A'anekha protests with a hint of dismay in her voice. She looks around, but, there's no point in fleeing. She's been spotted by the Inquisitor and Citadel guard, and surely they'd prevent her departure. She looks towards the south, the piercing thud of hoofbeats holding her attention rigidly as she peers into the growing shadows towards that side of the city.

A rider on a huge black stallion appears in the dark maw of the street splitting the courtyard. Horse's black skin glistens with sweat, but this is the only hint of reflection or light the visitor gives away. His black shape is darker than the night itself, it stands out like a void cut from the dark curtain of the night, and inside is the darkest blackness you have ever seen. Unnatural, bone-chilling cold spreads through the air as the rider approaches.

Fear causes her legs to paralyze, but even bigger fear overcomes the paralysis long enough for the plain Corsair to seek refuge behind a bush. There, she squats down, closing her ears and shutting her eyes.

A shout rises up from the Inquisitor as the horseman arrives, " My lord!" Ullaq drops to his knees, in a full obeisance, the Citadel Guard but a moment behind him, " Your arrival is most welcome!"

A'anekha swallows thickly at the lump formed in her throat. She, too, sinks to a knee, her movements slow and delicate despite her fear. She lets the Inquisitor do the talking, perhaps if she makes herself small enough, the Rider won't focus so much on her...

A sharp merciless yank of the black-gloved hand on the reins halts the black horse in the middle of the courtyard. The rider surveys the gathering, his head turns but the darkness under the deep hood of the black robes yields nothing to the feeble light of the few torches, reveals no face. His stare, unseen but clearly felt, pauses on the young girls. A slight movement of the black boot in the stirrup nudges the horse toward her. The horse moves past the Inquisitor, and only with a tiny nod does the rider acknowledge his supplication. But even less heed is paid to the guards who would simply be stepped on had they not regained control of their wits at least enough to get out of the way.

The rider looks down at the girl, and a hoarse voice hisses from the darkness, "You are the one".

Yasmina continues to cower behind the bushes, her ears covered tightly by her hand, her one good eye shut tightly.

Mesumei comes up the Rath Corsair from the south.
Mesumei has arrived.

The Inquisitor remains in his bowed state, casting a glance at the horseman and the prophetess, maintaining a still silence.

A'anekha bows her head, squeezing her eyes shut beneath the cover of her veil. Too late! There's no hiding now, he's spotted her. And... he seems to want to call attention to her, as well, of all the misfortunes.

Mazrakhor arrives from the north.
Mazrakhor has arrived.

"You are the one willed by my master to speak his warning. I sense his touch upon you." The rider continues in the same hollow voice. "Have you spoken the words he sent to you?"

Eruphel has arrived.

"Y-yes," A'anekha stammers, hardly daring to look up. "Of course, Wraithlord. I always speak, as I am directed."

The rider straightens up in the saddle and looks from the girl to the kneeling Inquisitor, then, slowly, aroung the courtyard. Piercing, chilling gaze of the invisible eyes probes everyone in turn. "And ... was ... the ... warning ... heeded?" Cold voice, filled with menace, drops the words slowly, like shovels of dirt into a fresh grave.

The passing of an event such as this is not easily missed by the keen, and little surprise is it that in all Umbar, there are indeed those with bravery and loyalty enough to come forth from their abodes to behold a terrible spectacle such as this.

Mortal bravery means little in the face of the Nine, however, for as the newcome wain approaches, it quails as the fell, intagible mantle falls down upon the hearts of men.

Torchlight reflects off the burnished armour of the Serpent Guard of Seaward, and their head is the Tower Lord himself, who like all those with him, falls to his knees, unable to look upon the terrible splendour of the Nazgul.

The Inquisitor's voice is steady, though quiet, "The warning has been heard by the men of the City, though I cannot say if it has been heeded. I have come to welcome you to the City, as my lord's servant, to make the situation known." Ullaq raises his gaze to take in the fearsome might of the Nazgul. The torchlight of the Seaward Serpent Guard causes the black-robed priest's gaze to turn. "My Lord," he says, addressing the Nazgul, "Those of Seaward Tower over there have banned entry to priests of the Dark Lord. As a man, knowing the pretentious nature they have, I believe that such an act signifies a lack of respect for our Lord and his Servants."

A'anekha gets to her feet, now that the focus has left her. Slowly, carefully, she edges away from the Rider, placing the Citadel guard even between her and the ethereal being.

Yasmina remains in place, every once in a while, lifting a finger to see if the conversation has stopped.

The folk of Seaward remain in silence, eyes downcast.

Mazrakhor alone lifts his gaze, to look to the Inquisitor, and his expression is one of piercing calm, save for the natural dread of the Nazgul that weighs over him as all else. Yet for the moment he remains silent... For the words of the Inquisitor seem to amuse him, though what mirth he might normally find is quelled by the seriousness of the present.

At the end of the double line of the Serpent Guard, there are a few extra. Three to each line. Only, in their midst is a girl dressed in blue. As the men following the Lord of Seaward fall to their knees, so do the personal guards of Eruphel, Daughter of Lord Mazrakhor, and lastly, the girl herself, though she does so rather clumsily, as if shaking too hard. Her natural tan seems to have left her as she stares at the stones of the Courtyard, and occasionally steals a glance at her lord.

The attention of the rider is now diverted from the girl to the Inquisitor, and the weight of his gaze is lifted from her mind and will. "The Eye have seen the faith weaken among the people of the City. Answer to my master now, for I am his hand and his voice, what have you done to carry his word to the people?"

A'anekha slips back further, and when she's safely outside of the range of the wraith's vision, she turns and runs wildly through the streets -- homeward, the girl escapes.

"We have sent emissaries into the farthest reaches of the Harad, my Lord," Ullaq says, appearing calm beside the quaking forms of the Citadel Guard. "Here in Umbar, we have denounced the infidel and encouraged all faithful to come to the Citadel for comfort and succour. Due to the very few numbers that have answered our summons, I can only conclude that the heretics are even more numerous than I first imagined." The Inquisitor bows his head again, "And so, due to our lack of numbers, we prayed for guidance, for assistance. And you have come, my lord."

The rider surveys the gathering men, then again turns to the Inquisitor, and a dark shadow stretches across the courtyard toward the man, "Then you need to be more ... effective", he says coldly. "All that you report was seen by the Eye, and he commanded me to hasten to the City. Your people doubt the words of the Citadel, they are no longer convinced of the power of the darkness. They shall be." The shadow withdraws, the rider pauses, and his gaze again drifts across the gathered crowd, until it falls on Mazrakhor. Shadows creep from the dark figure toward the Seaward Lord, and the hollow dispassionate voice speaks again, "Some will need more convincing than others"

A slow, cold smile spreads across Mazrakhor's face at the Inquisitor's words, though when his gaze shifts back to the Nazgul, it disappears, instead to be replaced by the deathly chill of calm.

"I, nor my people, need no convincing, great Lord," the Tower Lord speaks, and though the weight of the Sixth of Nine is upon him, he does not quail, and in his speech these is conviction and strength. "Faith has not waned in the Eye. Not among the people of the Seaward. Do not actions speak more than words? Long have we strived, foremost among all Towers, in the war against Gondor. Our faith in the Eye is as strong as ever... but our faith in its priests in Umbar has failed, for in times recent and new they have proven themselves weak, and over-proud, and unworthy."

There is a pause, then Mazrakhor continues. "I am the pupil of Black Khazamr, Lord of Corsairs, and I have seen the felt the touch of the Great Eye upon him, and been mentored by him in the legacy of Adrazor, Sword of Sauron, and seek only to follow in their footsteps. I will welcome priests of the Eye among my ilk if you name them, but this Inquisitor and his kind have failed. They are weak, and if you doubt me, only behold Umbar, and the contention that many just and strong Lords and thieves alike hold for him and his lackeys."

Eruphel trembles terribly, and one of her guards puts out a hand to steady her, though he is barely in a better state of mind. "I only went to the Citadel for help." she whispers to him. But the guard puts a finger of his other hand to his lips to silence her, and she purses her lips, looking again to the ground, and pointedly avoiding a look at the dark visitor.

The rider raises his hand, and the creeping shadow raises in a swirling vortex around Mazrakhor until he appears to be bound by black cords. However, the word of Eruphel catches his ear, and, as his attention is diverted away, the choking shadows fade into the night, "What help have you thought then?"

A sibalant hiss escapes from the priest's lips, " They are liars and thieves, my Lord Shadow." Ullaq narrows his eyes at the gathered group from Seaward, " Khazamr was a believer, true enough. But this one... pfah! This one speaks words that sound grand to men's ears but fall useless at the ground against those with reason to see his treachery. Seaward and its corsairs rally against Gondor, but never in the name or service of the Eye, only for the greedy hearts of their lusts." The Inquisitor pauses in his emotional diatribe to breathe and return his speaking to a more sedate pace, " The so-called Lord of Seaward calls us weak, over-proud, unworthy... We are none of these things, yet if men like him have their way, we will be nothing more than worms in the dust to their desires. They seek not the Eye, only their own glory."

Mazrakhor does not recoil from the shadows, nor retreat as they fade, and he looks to Ullaq once more, the smile returning. "You claim treason and faithlessness on my part, yet have no proof to offer. And indeed, you will find none within all the bounds of the World. Ask Black Khazamr. Ask the many men of Gondor who have lain dead at my feet. We strive, while you and your ilk seek to harm and cause unrest within our city. What have you done for the Eye? Nothing. Yet, my faith is great... If the great Lord here names you a true representative of the Eye, then I will welcome you into my Tower without pause."

And yet when the words have left his lips, the Seaward Lord shifts to look back at Eruphel, gaze mute.

The Inquisitor sets an icy gaze upon the Lord of Seaward, " And thus, the worm shows its belly... he deigns to answer for the Dark Lord, to say who is worthy to carry the message of the Eye... such arrogance!"

Turning nearly white, even in her crouched position Eruphel loses her balance, and falls into the guard at her side. The sound of clinking metal as her guard supports her seems both distant and loud in the cold presence before her father. "I...sought help from the Citadel for one of our Corsairs, who was suffering from a wound. At the Citadel, acolyte sensed my ignorance of the Eye, and...prevented me from leaving...she challenged me to a duel of daggers. I accepted the challenge, but sheathed my own dagger in the darkness. I...refused to attack a follower of the Eye. Inquisitor Ullaq allowed me safe passage away from the Citadel, but when my..." she shivers slightly as she chooses her words, "tribal.../friend/ heard of my ordeal at the hands of the acolyte, he closed the gates to the Citadel, and the Citadel denounced us. But...Lord Mazrakhor was not here! He was in Caldur! All was done in his absence!" She begins to weep sofly, and places her hands on the ground in a deep bow.

"The issue with the gate will be dealt with, in time", coldly notes the rider. "I see a more pressing matter right now..." The black shape distorts, robes billow, and the darkness cascades to the ground like a black waterfall. When the shadows regain shape, the Wraith is on the ground, gliding across the courtyard toward the Seaward Lord, "You are indeed a great war leader for your men, leading them into battle. Do you seek to inspire them, give them resolve in the face of the terror? Commendable. But there are darker fears than death on the battle field. You struggle to shield your mind from me. Do you know the true fear?"

The Seaward Lord's response cuts off short, though, for as the Wraith draws nearer, his voice does quail, and his limbs weaken. Still upon his knees, Mazrakhor's posture becomes bent, and his head droops, eyes no longer able to behold the Sixth of Nine. His form grows prostrate beneath the weight of the messenger of the Eye, and even as the pride in his shoulders slumps to nothingness, it might seem that his mind too is overcome by the shadows of Gothmog.

Four words does he mumble, little more than a terrified whisper. "I know it. Now."

Great chill spreads through the air as Gothmog unsheathes his sword; both hands on the hilt, he points the weapon down. From the shadow of his hood comes quiet chanting, sound to freeze all but the most stout hearts, " Blood to darkness. Soul to despair." The weapon flashes with cold light like a shard of ice, then, slowly, turns black. Darkness flows down the blade as the Wraith lowers it, slowly, almost gently.

A head rises up, terror-filled eyes lifting to the terrible blackness of the Ringwraith... and then the blade touches the Tower Lord, betwixt the right ear and temple, drawing but a single drop of blood.

In an instant, it seems that the Tower Lord pales, and his eyes roll up into his head, the warmth fleeing his body.

Eruphel lifts her head and groans to see her father bowed as if beneath a crushing weight, tears streaming down her cheeks. But as the cruel blade is drawn, she gasps and begins to clamor about her with blinded hands. It decends slowly, though whether in actuality, or if time has left the Courtyard is unknown. But she screams shrill and anguished at the sight, and reaches out toward Lord Mazrakhor, futile as the gesture is by the great distance between them. "Father!" But her hand freezes, and her eyes roll, then flutter and close, and she instantly slumps to the ground.

The drop of blood hangs on the tip of the blade, its deep red slowly changes to black, then it falls to the ground. "It is done", the Wraith sheathes the blade. "We shall gather again, next night, when your faith shall be tested, and be known to me". The dark messenger turns to the Inquisitor, "As shall be yours."

The Inquisitor bows fully to the dark spectre, "You will is my command, my lord. I shall make ready for your arrival at the Citadel." So saying, Ullaq rises and walks into the darkness, the Citadel Guard hurrying to keep up with his brisk pace.

The Serpent guard is in much as it can be that is, which is very little by the standards of most. All move. Most in a desire to aid their lord, contradicted by a fear of the dark one, and by their leader's seeming lack of resistance to him. But the guard near Eruphel move differently, the chief among them gathering their charge in his arms. "Let us speed away!" he whispers to the others, grateful for once for the duty laid upon him. He stands as if lifting a great weight. But it is not the girl, for his five companions rise in a similarly clumsy fashion, and together they quickly exit the Courtyard on the Rath Corsair.

Slowly, Mazrakhor rises back to his feet... Seemingly more wraith than man to the eye, dark eyes filled with roiling terror, but also the serenity of utter submission, desert-tanned skin impossibly pale. The Tower Lord bows deeply, and his voice -- when it comes forth -- is hoarse... little more than a whisper.

"I shall come, dread Lord," Mazrakhor intones, voice uneven and shaken, but the casual brush of one now-weak hand waves off the Serpent Guardsman who comes to aid him... The warrior, terror arising anew, flees with his companions, but the Lord's pace is much slower as he goes off.

The terrible sword is sheathed, and the shadows which were casting about the courtyard withdraw into the black void which releases them. The stars shine upon the courtyard once again. Motionless, the Wraith watches the leaving men.