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This time, he didn’t relish the feel of it; in fact the dead calm of the clearing caused Murdock to experience something he had never known before, fear. Fear had always ruled cowards and children, but never an elite Order of the Balance assassin, such as Murdock. The Order represented a rare collection of men who all exhibited complete disregard for any creed or belief except justice, and therefore restored balance to the world.

Balance, an easy concept to understand, but an exceptionally difficult one to master the use of, especially in matters pertaining to life and death. The Order, established in the early years of man’s existence had but a single purpose and that was to keep balance in the world through whatever means necessary. Many times, that meant a life must end for justice to be served, but that was the way of the Order, balance was naturally restored when justice was meted out. Murdock was not some sadistic, twisted murderer in the classic sense of the word. He was chosen, gifted, you might even say special when it came to matters of dispatching evil and those who exulted in it.

He cursed this uneasy feeling; it undulated along his spine like some unholy presence attempting to remove his soul, discarding the flesh as an offering to the Shopan pagan gods of this region . The Shopan were an ancient race of warriors who fiercely guarded this region of Dalmor, and did not welcome uninvited guests such as himself. The brutal means of death employed during a Shopan massacre nearly defied explanation, even causing Murdock to grimace as he remembered the last time he had passed through the scarcely human remains of their savagery.

It all started with an eerie whistling sound, that seemed to come from everywhere, and simultaneously from no discernible location. Murdock instantly steeled himself into the weapon for which he was created; mentally possessing a razor-sharp acuity and his body disciplined by years of training in the catacombs of the Order. Hour after hour, the Elders taught him mastery of the blade and the artistry of the kill. Their expert guidance seemed to last endlessly through the nights, regardless of the weather or seasons, eventually becoming years, yet Murdock persevered. With every feint, slash and parry, Murdock emerged more convinced of his mission as the one chosen to roam the earth and resolve every grievous wrong, restoring balance to the world.

Murdock knew he was created for tumultuous times like this, traveling a chaotic existence with seemingly no limits to men’s depravity, Murdock rehearsed death and breathed justice. He didn’t destroy others purely out of spite or malice, not even for legitimate causes of revenge or vigilantism. Simply put, Murdock saw evil for what it represented, and didn’t like the way it continued making the world to totter drunkenly into unfathomable wickedness. So, Murdock didn’t personify corruption’s antithesis, nor was he the antidote for those who were trapped themselves, or entangled others in their evil, Murdock was the balance to it all.

However, right now Murdock needed answers; from where did the whistling come, what was it’s purpose, did it pose an immediate threat? All of these queries and more, raced through his mind as Murdock readied himself for what was to come. He, representing the honed weapon of justice, steadfastly braced himself against the raucous din which intensified with unabated abandon. All of the conditioning against expert assassins, all of the hours spent rehearsing for ordinary battle scenarios, did not prepare even a man such as Murdock for something like this. Accompanying the sound’s harsh trilling nature, vibrations began in the river before him, strange ripplings as though a great beast stirred the waters from beneath. Behind his position, Murdock observed limbs, now separated from their hosts, falling to the forest floor below, upon which small stones likewise danced before the wave of aural insanity.

Drawing from his enormous reserve of inner fortitude, Murdock could not only hear the deadly cacophony, but began seeing the effects upon his exposed flesh. Like everything around him, Murdock’s skin also began to ripple until he believed the battle-hardened tissue might be flayed from his body. To have fought so many and emerged victorious, to have survived untold horrors both above and beneath the earth, Murdock was now dangerously near to becoming a nameless corpse in what would normally be scenic, tranquil surroundings. As with many other things in life, Murdock mused, it only took one toxic individual or tragic event to poison everything and everyone around them. "There has to be a way out, a means of escape, somewhere to turn", his cold calculating logic screamed at him. Retreat into the woodland didn’t seem a viable option, as the noise reverberated a bit louder from that direction. Dead fish, along with other aquatic victims of this faceless horror floated to the top of the rushing water before him, when suddenly it occurred to him, this was rapidly moving water!

An essential part of the Elite Assasin’s gear was the depri, a multifunctional outer garment containing essential supplies and lethal devices to assist while carrying out their duties. For instance, wrapped within the collar was a simple but deadly garrote, and woven within the sleeve lining was a nylon cable attached to a collapsible grappling hook. Items like these, and dozens more helped create the mystique surrounding these merchants of death who stalked the night. Murdock knew that once again, his depri held the answer for which he desperately sought, and he wasted no time employing the solution. Due to being an outdoor cloak which endured all kinds of weather, the depri was crafted very carefully and specifically for each person. One such preparation was mutiple immersions of the fabric into a solution(which many believed to contain a type of elemental magic)designed to seal the cloak from the effects of extreme heat and bitter cold, as well as insulating it from drenching downpours during the rainy season. Murdock used that knowledge to quickly deploy the hood, drawing it tightly around his ears and zipping the sides shut, from chin to forehead, like a cocoon. The sound resonated across the waves, crescendoing to a mighty roar as Murdock dove downstream into the rapidly moving water, a temporary, but necessary retreat from the dangerous shrilling. Bouncing like a cork and grunting with every crash into boulders lining the river bottom, Murdock knew that he had to make his way to shore soon, or else his waning air supply would become a new source of trouble. With the sound fading in the distance, Murdock struggled to make his way to the nearest shoreline, knowing that every effort robbed him of much needed oxygen. It was a strange sensation to have your ears still ringing from the eerie, but deadly sound, and yet to have the roaring of a mighty river now assailing them as well. Murdock struggled to the surface, fighting to gain any small victory possible against the relentless torrent propelling him downstream to who-knows-what. Using his enormous will to live and undeterred resolve, Murdock unzipped the hood of his depri and immediately focused on a low-hanging bough near a bend in the river ahead. With powerful strokes reserved only for the gods of another age, Murdock fought the river and angled his body towards the one singular hope of stopping this bone-jarring nightmare. He would just have one quick chance to snag the branch and prayed that it would not give way, unceremoniously dumping him back into the raging waters.

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