A Death Before Dawn: Part 2
I had been watching the guards and where they were now was the best time to clear the wall. I ran hard towards the ten-foot stone barrier and as I did I concentrated slightly. My toes lengthened and hardened, growing points, so that I now had five sharp claws, increasing my grip. At the last moment I hurled myself up the face of the wall and grabbed the top easily. Without slowing I used my claws to boost myself up higher, and rolled over the other side, dropping down onto a well-manicured lawn. A nearby flower bed provided some convenient cover and I dove under a large bush before the patrolling guards could spot me. I took a moment to make sure I hadn’t been spotted and then stuck my head out of the bush to examine the house. Mairin tapped me on the shoulder and pointed upwards. “Door.” I glanced up towards the roof and could just make out a small balcony. Given its location it would have an excellent view of the harbour. “Anyone up there?” I whispered. “Man. Sleeping.” Good and bad news, but it was to be expected. I like a challenge and the Gods were doing what they could to make sure I would have one. I silently thanked them for the courtesy of a cloudy night and made my way to the wall of the house. A quick thought and my finger nails thickened and lengthened enough to help me with the climb. It didn’t take me too long to scale the wall and soon I was just below the balcony. I pulled myself up enough to peer over the wall to check the guard and sure enough, just as Mairin had said, he was sleeping. I pulled myself up further and slipped on to the balcony. The little Aoshee fluttered down and landed on the sleeping guard’s legs. “See?” She announced, pointing back at the snoring man. “Sleeping!” She looked at me in puzzlement as I leapt back over the wall, ready to drop to the ground the moment the guard moved. “Mairin!” I hissed. Mairin looked at me confused. “Where go?” I took a calming breath. Aoshee! Frustrating to deal with! “Mairin!” I hissed. “Get off the man and don’t wake him!” “Oh!” She paused. “It ok. He not wake. Sleeping.” “I can see that he’s sleeping. Please get off before you wake him.” Mairin shrugged her little shoulders and flitted up to the sleeping man’s neck. She reached behind him and pulled out a pin. “Sleeping.” She informed me gravely as she held up the pin like a miniature sword. I stared at the pin and then quickly glanced at my left wrist, where I keep a series of identical pins in a thick leather strap. One was missing. I cursed silently and pulled myself back on to the balcony. I beckoned Mairin over and held out my hand, and she delicately placed the used pin on my hand. “Let’s hope he wasn’t due to be relieved anytime soon.” I muttered through clenched teeth as I slid the pin back into the strap. At least she hadn’t stabbed herself with it. The little Aoshee suddenly looked concerned. “I did a wrong thing?” “No, it’s fine. Next time ask before you take something.” She nodded solemnly. She’d probably forget within the hour, but one could always hope. The door was unlocked and opened easily when I tried it. The hinges were well oiled and silent. Several steps led down to a corridor that seemed to run the length of the house. I let my feet and hands ripple back to their normal form so I wouldn’t scratch the wooden walls and floor, and crept into the house, closing the door behind me. * Mairin glided ahead of me to the stairs at one end of the corridor and pointed downwards. I nodded and she drifted slowly down the stairs, watching for any guards. I followed her down slowly and found her waiting for me on a small landing with a single door. The stairs carried on downwards towards what my nose informed me was most likely the kitchen. I checked the door and it was unlocked, just like the door to the balcony. I opened the door enough for Mairin to pass through and waited for her to check for guards. A moment later she motioned for me to follow her. All clear then. I took a moment to stretch and breathe deeply before stepping out into the wide, carpeted hall. Midway along the hall a wide, similarly carpeted set of stairs with fancy, flowing banisters rose up from the ground floor. At the far end a large window looked out over the property, towards the Lord of Febros’ manse. Several candles burned in sconces casting pools of light. Most people would leave a house in darkness to save candles and for safety. Not the rich though. Eldon would no doubt have a servant that would occasionally check them throughout the night. I walked lightly towards the door that Mairin was pointing at. Eldon’s bedchamber. I looked at the door and then to the two doors that flanked it. I looked at Mairin. “What’s in those rooms?” I whispered. Mairin pointed at one, then the other. “Books. Table, chairs.” A private library and a private dining room. They’d have connecting doors to his bedroom, most likely. I moved down to the library door, closest to the stairs I’d come down, and checked it. It was locked. As was the dining room door. Okay, not a problem. Another challenge. I pulled out my lock picks and went to work on the library door while Mairin cocked her head to the side in puzzlement. “Eldon not there Marek.” She told me firmly. “Bedroom. There.” “I know.” I muttered as I caressed the lock. “Why this door?” “Because I prefer to attack from the sides. You know that. Never take the obvious path.” Mairin straightened and looked a little chagrined. She understood what I meant and was annoyed that she hadn’t thought of it. You can’t ambush prey from an obvious location. Always attack from the sides. With a well-oiled soft snick, the look opened to me and I put away my picks. Another breath and then I motioned Mairin behind me. I carefully opened the door and found myself in Eldon’s private library. It was a small room, with shelves lining two walls. The floor was, like the hall, carpeted. I had guessed correctly about the connecting door and mentally patted myself on the back. Without rushing, I padded over to the door and put my ear against it. There was nothing but silence from the other side. I tested the door handle and it moved easily, even better, the door was unlocked. I started to turn the door knob until Mairin hissed softly. I frowned at her, but she held a finger to her lips. She’d heard something. I slowly released the door knob and stepped away from the door. “Voices.” She warned, pointing at the door. Well that was that. I’d have to come back tomorrow night and kill Eldon then. At least I’d gotten a look at the inside his house tonight, so it hadn’t been a total waste of time. I gestured for Mairin to follow me and I quietly let ourselves out of the library. I locked the door again; thankfully a much faster process now that I’d already finagled it. A cautiously quiet walk got me back to the door to the servant’s stairs without mishap. I moved to grasp the door knob but just as I did, the door opened and one of Eldon’s guards stepped out from the small landing. The guard drew his sword, but before he could open his mouth I rammed my fist into his throat and kicked him back through the door as he fell. The guard dropped his sword as he hit the ground hard, trying to draw a breath through his ruined throat. I winced as the sword hit the stairs and hoped that no one had noticed. It wasn’t to be. I heard the kitchen door open and someone running up the stairs. Above my head in the servants’ quarters, I heard more doors opening. I couldn’t go down and I couldn’t go up. That left only one thing to do. I looked at Mairin. “Get out anyway you can. Find me after.” She dropped down to hover beside me. “I help!” “No. Stay safe and get out.” The little Aoshee wrung her hands in distress and then pulled herself together. She nodded and disappeared into the shadows. As she disappeared, I picked up the offending sword and ran from the stairs. I could hear the entire house starting to wake up. A guard appeared behind me, from the stairs to the kitchen. “Assassin!” He shouted as he ran after me. The door to Eldon’s bedroom opened just as I passed it and an armoured figure hurled itself across the hall, barrelling into me. I hit the wall hard with my shoulder and lost my balance. The door to Eldon’s dining room opened and three guards with swords drawn ran out. The armoured guard that had hit me grabbed me by the shoulder and hauled on my arm. I rolled with it and managed to pull the guard to the ground, using the stolen energy to roll to my feet. A quick kick with my heel to the guard’s chin and he was out. The three other guards moved towards me, their swords in guard positions, while the guard from the stairs hung back to give them room. I had to act. They were backing me towards the wall and from there they’d have me surrounded. A flick of my wrists released my hidden knives and allowed them to drop down into my hands. I charged forwards towards the guard on the right before suddenly changing direction and tackling the leftmost guard. I slipped under his guard and slid one of my blades into his armpit. I pulled the blade out as he crumpled to the ground in shock and pain and swiveled, throwing him into the path of the second guard who pulled his cut so as not to hit his fellow guard. I used the opening to throw my second knife and the pommel hit the off-balance guard between the eyes, stunning him. The rightmost guard rushed forward to defend his comrade and found the pommel of my other knife striking him in his right eye. He shouted in pain and fell to his knees as I rushed forward, swept up my first knife and sliced the nearest guard’s neck. Hearing the guard from the stairs rushing in, I rolled to the side and barely avoided being decapitated. I sliced the man’s wrist, cutting tendons and the man howled in pain, his sword falling from useless, blood-soaked hands. I grabbed the sword before it hit the ground and threw it like a throwing knife at the remaining guard. He was down and bleeding heavily before he knew what was happening. I pushed myself to my feet, breathing heavily, and was about to make good my escape when a slow clapping brought me up short. I looked around and saw Eldon leaning on his door frame with a slender, well dressed, woman standing beside him, a sword sheathed at her side. “Impressive don’t you think my dear?” He said to her coolly. “Very. He’s even better than we were told he’d be.” I rolled my shoulders and glared at Eldon. “Care to fill me in on what’s going on?” Eldon laughed coldly. “I would have thought it obvious. I knew you were coming.” “Horse shit!” I swore. As I started thinking furiously. I made sure that nobody knew who I was when I took a contract and I picked and chose what contracts I took. “Oh please!” The woman replied as she rolled her eyes. “A well-guarded, prominent merchant, whose death has to look like an accident. You couldn’t resist a challenge like that.” I cursed inwardly, and Eldon saw it on my face and smiled. “Kill him for me my dear.” The woman drew her sword, a long bladed, single handed affair with some sort of fancy hand guard. She slid towards me with surprising speed and I was forced to throw myself away from her to avoid being skewered. She crossed the distance I’d opened up between us in seconds and again I had to throw myself away from her blade. She was whip fast and very controlled. Someone had had very expensive training and unless I missed my guess, she was a Blademaster. One of those rare individuals who had a natural affinity for swords. When combined with training and experience, Blademasters made lethal opponents. I hadn’t a chance against her. So, I cheated. I pretended to stumble as she stepped in towards me and, as I expected, she executed a beautiful thrust. I accepted the blade, as it sliced into my side and walled the pain away. I’d deal with it later. I thrust my knife deep into her side and watched her fall. I’d have liked to have made a more terminal thrust, but I had almost half her sword passing through me. I was just happy she let go of her sword. With a shout and a burst of adrenaline I pulled the sword out of me and ran towards the big hall window. I threw the sword at the window, and as the glass shattered I jumped out into the night. The ground rushed up towards me and I rolled as I hit the ground. It hurt. A lot. But I didn’t have time to feel it. I was bleeding heavily and still surrounded by people who wanted to kill me. Granted the wound to my side was already starting to heal, the flow of blood slowing, but that brought its own problems. I could heal or I could escape. I didn’t have the energy to do both right now. I slid into some shadows and ripped the sleeves from my tunic. Wadding them up, packed them in against the wounds and tightened my belt. That would keep them in place for a short while. I slipped out of the shadows and ran towards the wall where it was nearest to the house. All around the property I could hear guardsmen shouting as they searched for me. I didn’t have long. I took a running jump at the wall and hauled myself over it before dropping off the other side. I landed badly and for a moment it was all I could do to stop myself from screaming in pain. I had to get away. I swayed drunkenly as I stood up and stumbled my way blindly down the hill back towards the town. Somewhere along the way I stepped in a hole and fell for what seemed like an eternity. Then I was floating. I tried to look around, but I couldn’t move. I tried to speak, but my tongue seemed to have swollen and I could only groan. “Shh.” A warm voice calmed me. “I have you. Rest now. I have you.” Seemed like good advice. The darkness swallowed me.