Kerris walked with a brisk pace in order to keep up with the assassin, though he kept several feet between them. Back in the room with Brynn, Kerris had watched something akin to a switch being flipped inside the man he now followed, a switch that changed the man from Grehem to the assassin. Grehem was an intelligent man, albeit a cold one, who would seek some sort of understanding of his situation. As the assassin, however, Grehem transformed into a completely, uncaring killer. This had startled Kerris to the very core of his being, and in his state of bewilderment he had forgotten to leave the pen back in the room with Brynn. Even now he could feel the weight of it within the rolled up contract that was tucked away inside his robes. Brynn would be severely upset if he found out, so it was with quick deliberation that Kerris decided that he would have to be careful enough to put it back before Brynn discovered it was missing.
The pen was quickly put out of mind, when Kerris realized that they had already made their way out of the manor and that they were halfway across the vast snow covered yard that separated the manor and the stables. Tromping along in the wake that the assassin left through the snow, Kerris felt his stomach begin to turn. As the stable doors drew nearer, Kerris began praying to the Dreamer, asking for him to make the events, that were unfolding before him, stop.
Brynn had wanted to have him oversee this particular contract for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because of whom the target was. Though he had failed to actually inform Kerris who the target was to him, Brynn had stressed the importance of this person’s death. And secondly, this would be their first use of the pen since the contract with Brynn’s liaison had ended, and Brynn wanted to ensure that it still functioned as expected. Despite these reasons, Kerris had no desire to see anyone murdered at the hands of the assassin or otherwise. Surely Grehem, the side of him that had written painful entry after entry into the journal, would find some way to break through this enthrallment that held him.
The assassin’s pace never slowed, however, and without a moment’s hesitation he threw the doors to the stable open in a blast of snow and wind and stepped inside. Kerris, unable to keep from following, quickly stepped through the doors and almost ran into the assassin. Side stepping around the assassin, Kerris took in the scene. Milling around the stable was Brynn’s personal guard. Ten men in all, they were the ones that had been sent to hunt down the target that was bound and blindfolded right in the middle of all of them. The target herself was nothing more than a young woman, about the same age as Kerris’s own twenty-five years. She had hair, blacker than midnight, plastered to her pale flesh by sweat and tears.
No wonder Brynn had chosen not to inform Kerris about any of the specifics of the target. This wouldn’t be like watching a man die, which would have been bad enough. This would be, somehow, more wrong, and it is was with a rush of horror and rage, that Kerris felt a switch, not unlike the assassin’s, flip at the sight of the woman. Everything that Brynn and his liaison had forced the assassin to do up till this point had been terrible. Yet, all of the men Brynn had forced Grehem to kill, the imprisonment that Grehem had endured through the last seven years, all paled in comparison to the idea of having this woman murdered. Kerris looked to the assassin standing next to him, and despite the compulsion binding the man, found the assassin’s turmoil mirroring his own. The compulsion, unfortunately, was winning.
Grehem reached down and unsheathed his sword, before beginning to stalk closer and closer to his target. The guards had apparently been given the complete plan, including the assassin’s arrival, and it was with calm understanding that they cleared a path to the her.
No, no, no, thought Kerris. This is wrong. He clutched his robes in frustration and in doing so felt the contract and pen within settle into his hand. An idea gripped Kerris and without thinking he pulled the items out. He unrolled the contract and smoothed the ebony quill on the pen before slapping them against the wall of the stable. He scratched the woman’s name out and quickly wrote in the first name that came to him. He turned back just in time to watch the assassin shudder and drop his sword to the straw covered floor.
* * *
The assassin grabbed his hooded head in both hands and unleashed a primal scream as a wave of agony rushed through him. And, yet, the agony brought something else with it. He couldn’t put a name to what he felt; he knew only that the woman lying on the ground before him was no longer his target. He felt the compulsion shift out and away from the stable.
Once the cleansing fire that had enraptured him settled down, he looked around the room. First to the face of the young woman bound before him, who trembled yet no longer strained against her bonds. Second to the guards who, startled by his outburst, had drawn their weapons. Finally, his gaze settled on his sword, the one item that had become a terror to behold, while also being the one constant in his life. With fluidic grace he picked it up and stood. Turning his back to the girl and the guards, he headed towards the door and Kerris, before one of the guards that had been waiting by the door stepped into his way.
“Oy, where do ye think y’er-“
The sword he was brandishing at the assassin and the last of his words were each cut away in one dancing swing of the assassin’s blade. A cry rose up from the rest of the guards as the remaining nine charged him seeing their comrade cut down. The assassin whipped around and blocked the overhead chop of the nearest guard before spinning with his blade and taking the man’s entrails into the throat of his next attacker. Not stopping, the assassin turned towards his next targets.
However, they were already on the move. These men were each a personal guard of Brynn for a reason. They were smart and ruthless. They formed a three man wall that they would only break once they were close enough to circle the assassin. Instead of charging at them though, the assassin ran towards a pool of shadows against the nearby wall and dove in before popping out of another shadow directly behind them. Three lightning fast thrusts through each of their backs left four guards standing.
It only took a second for the rest of the guards to realize that the assassin was now at the back of the stable. Two of them were quickly moving to flank him from his sides while a third came at him from the front. He parried the swinging attack from the front and sent the blade out wide catching a glancing blow against the sword arm of his left side’s flanker, causing the man to gasp in surprise and stop his advance. The guard’s surprise was left incomplete as the assassin spun around sweeping a high aimed kick that sent the guard’s head back with a sickening snap. Finishing his pirouette of death, the assassin kept the momentum up just enough to knock the second flanker from his feet with another sweeping kick, before bringing his sword up high to block the frontal attacker’s overhead chop. The guard in front of him keeled forward, after the assassin reversed his block and slammed the pommel of his sword into the his midsection. Spinning out around him, he slashed down across the man’s exposed neck, just as the second flanker had made it back to his feet and began charging the assassin in bewildered anger. A relaxed parry and slash sent the man bloodied and sprawling back to the straw covered floor. He did not get up this time.
A voice from back in the middle of the stable called, “Yeh move and she’s dead.”
Turning to face the final guard, the assassin found him holding the woman up in front of him with one arm while he held a dagger to her throat. She had resumed her crying and her dark dress was plastered to her body by sweat and tears. He took two steps towards them.
“I mehn it! Stay where you are!”
The assassin dropped his sword arm to his side and relaxed.
“Tha’s right. Nise and ‘asy. Now I’m gunna take ‘er out the door and once I’m out there I’ll let ‘er go,” he said as he started to back up.
The guard was only able to take one step before the assassin reacted. Faster than the guard’s eyes could catch, he took one step and swung his sword out wide to his right as he flicked his thumb across a catch on the pommel. Where the blade and tang should have stopped several feet short of the guard, they kept flying trailing a wire from the pommel. Once they closed the distance to the guard, he grasped the wire and snapped it back to the left. The blade, following suit, severed the top of the guards head. His grip on the woman slacked and she fell to the ground before he did. The assassin attached the pommel back to the tang as the wire wound back up in the pommel, before walking across the barn past the woman to Kerris.
Kerris balked as the assassin approached, fearing that he was next. But the assassin only said, “See to her,” as he snatched the contract out of the man’s numb hands. He skimmed it as he paced to the door, before throwing it to the ground and walking back out into the snowy yard.