The assassin waited just around the corner in a shadowy alcove. If he was to have an easy escape, it would rely on careful timing and precise actions. The first soldier whipped around the corner in a blur of metal, flesh and leather. He counted: one, two, three, and then the remaining guards flew past him. As the last one passed the alcove, the assassin slid out of the alcove in shadow form and blended in with the soldier’s own shadow. He needed to make it as close to the front doors as he could manage.
In order to do that, he would need to mimic the soldier’s movements as closely as he could, so that no one noticed the overlapping of his and the soldier’s shadows. From corridor to corridor he writhed and twisted like a serpentine dancer, embracing the soldier’s shadow as they passed from the light of one torch to another. After what seemed an eternity, he caught a glimpse of the front door, just as he heard the leading soldier yell at the soldiers guarding the door.
“Did anybody come through?” he barked.
“No, sir,” replied the soldier stationed in front of the door.
“Where’s Dessek?” the soldier snapped with continued impatience.
“I am here, Kavan,” responded a silky voice from within a side room. A moment later, a compact man in the red robes of an ember-fist stepped out of the room. His fiery red hair, burning brightly against the deeper crimson of his robes, was pulled back in a long ponytail.
The assassin cursed his luck. He had hoped to slip out the door without further confrontation, but the hot headed, flame wielding monks were not know for letting a fight pass unchallenged.
“What has happened?”
“An assassin has murdered the lord.”
The ember-fist paused in consideration for a moment.
“He is here, Kavan,” Dessek replied with an understanding nod.
“What? Where?” the soldier named Kavan exclaimed as he and all of the other soldiers whipped around to search the area. The soldier whom the assassin had been mimicking broke the connection their shadows shared with each other.
“Here!” Dessek shouted before whirling about and striking at the assassin with a whip of flames that appeared out of thin air. His strike was blocked as the assassin erupted back to material form in a flurry of shadows. The fire whip dissipated and the shadows converged in on themselves until they reformed into the normal form of the assassin, his blade drawn and held at the ready.
“A shade-walker, I see,” Dessek said as he shook a few pieces of soot off of his hand. “Was that the Eximis style you were using?”
“Let me through, or I will be forced to slay each and every one of you on my way to the door,” the assassin replied. “My task has been completed and I have no desire for further bloodshed this night.”
“Is that so?” Dessek asked with a smirk. “Well, let’s make a deal. If you can defeat me, you go free. If not, well, you know the consequences.”
“How do I know I have your word?”
“A curious question coming from a murderer,” Dessek answered, arching an eyebrow. “Very well, simply put, if I cannot defeat you, then these men will accept that they have no chance of defeating you either. Is that understood?” he asked the soldiers without looking away from the assassin. “You are not to engage the shade-walker, should I fail.”
Most of the soldiers shifted uncomfortably, but they each held expressions that showed none of them could deny Dessek’s claim to their inferiority.
“Good enough, assassin? Now should we move outside-”
Before the sentence was finished the monk broke eye contact with the assassin to look towards the courtyard. It was long enough. The assassin felt the blade slide between the fiery man’s ribs before his eyes returned to the assassin. The weight and speed of the assassin’s dash through the soldiers brought the monk up into the air and quickly back down as the assassin finished his pounce.
“Your death was the price for your arrogance,” the assassin said as he gently closed Dessek’s eyes and slid his blade out of the man’s chest.
Anticipating a foolhardy attack from one of the soldiers as he rose, he held himself ready. However, none of them so much as breathed, let alone made a move in his direction. With blade still clenched tightly in one hand, he opened the front door with the other and walked out as if nothing had happened.
* * *
“Ha ha ha!” laughed Lord Brynn. “I finally got him. That upstart, Galon, has kept me in check for the last time.”
“Indeed, it would seem so, my lord,” Kerris said as he rolled up the most recent contract and placed it within a phylactery. He walked over to a large cabinet and took out a small case. Setting it down on a nearby table, he unlatched it and placed the phylactery within it, amidst a considerable collection of others that swelled within.
“It also seems that we have completed the collection, my lord. Shall I contact your liaison and tell him we are ready?”
“Of course, and while your at it, summon the assassin here straight away. I have something of a personal matter I need him to take care of.”
“As you wish, my lord.”
* * *
Grehem walked with a slow and steady pace to the fat lord’s personal chambers. He thoroughly despised the man, but could do nothing to ignore the summons. Probably had something he wanted to gloat about as usual. As Grehem turned the last corner, he almost ran into a short man carrying a case that rattled as the man stumbled backwards.
“Pa- pardon me, sir,” the little man said with a nervous smile, before rushing around him and down the hall.
The assassin watched the already small back of the man quickly shrink into the distance. A little tick at the back of his brain made him think that he knew or had at least seen this man once before, but he couldn’t place the face to anyone in particular, so it was with his normal, seemingly, uncaring demeanor that he slowly proceeded to Brynn’s private quarters.
Looking upon the lavishness of the manor’s decorations, it never ceased to amaze him how someone as useless as the lord could see to spoil himself so much. The hall in particular was gaudily decorated in plush carpet and the walls were adorned with an innumerable amount of tapestries and pieces of framed art. The cacophony of colors reminded Grehem of a child’s first attempt at painting, the colors all chaotic and overused. The decorations fell away from his notice as he came to the lord’s large wooden door. Dreamer’s mercy, even the door was preposterous, with its embellished design and ornate knocker. Refusing to use the knocker, he pounded his knuckles against the door. He knew the fat lord would complain about it, but the chance to get under the man’s skin was always too hard for Grehem to resist. However, the greeting he received upon opening the door was the exact opposite.
The door was opened by Kerris who seemed more rigid than usual, which was something considering that man was normally hard to read with his simple black cloth mask covering the upper part of his face. Kerris was uneasy about something, but he wasn’t about to say what it was, so Grehem passed him with nothing but a nod.
Lord Brynn had managed to wedge his portly form into his so called throne, though judging by the flush color of his face, it had been some ordeal. Or did he always look that way. Grehem was having a hard time remembering every detail of the man’s physical appearance when the odor of the man pervaded his senses. It didn’t matter. He just wanted to get his orders and leave.
“Grehem, my good man, welcome, welcome,” Brynn said with an unusual amount of cheer in his normally oily voice. “Would you like to sit down? Perhaps I can have Kerris pour you something to drink?”
“No thank you, my lord,” Grehem said keeping his voice slow and calm, despite the amount of malice he felt as he drew near the man. He would have killed Brynn a long time ago, yet, something always stayed his hand every time he was compelled to reach for his blade. “I’m just here for my orders. That is why you summoned me, is it not?”
“Straight to business as always then I see. Very well, but no, this is not a normal request I have for you. Down in the stables is someone I need you to eliminate.”
Grehem eyed Brynn suspiciously, looking for any sign that something was afoot.
“You brought the mark here?”
“Considering the years of service you have provided me, I thought you deserved to have someone else do the hard work for you. That merely leaves you with the fun part of the job, correct?”
Not exactly, thought Grehem, but he wasn’t about to let the ridiculousness of the man’s statement register to his expressions. Instead he kept himself calm as he considered his position.
“How long do I have to complete the task?”
“Well, the contract is not exactly time sensitive, however, I would like it completed hastily, so I’ve had Kerris write it up to be completed within the hour. I’d say that leaves you about a half.”
“Very well, contract please,” he said to Kerris without looking from Brynn.
“I have one other request for this particular job. Since this is somewhat of an important matter to me personally, Kerris will be accompanying you.”
Again, Grehem had a hard time keeping the thoughts in his mind from reflecting in his expressions.
“This is a high priority target for me, and I just want to have someone bear witness to its completion.”
“Fine. Let us go, Kerris.”
“What, now?” Kerris asked incredulously.
“As you wish,” he said as he slipped the rolled up contract into the folds of his dark robes.
Without another word, the assassin turned around on a heel and strode quickly to the door, leaving Kerris to catch up.