Winter in Hien: Part 2

I faded back into the shadows as Idina led Kaja away.  Sunrise was fast approaching, but I’d make use of the darkness while I could.  I watched as seven men entered the alley, all dressed in rough, patched clothing and barefoot.  I reassessed and decided that they were less likely to be local street toughs and more likely to be sailors without a ship.  Stuck in port and low in funds, desperate for some work. They were carrying a variety of weapons, cudgels, knives and even a rust spotted sword.  Not much of a challenge.  I drew my two long knives and pounced on the rearmost man, a large fellow with a scar on his cheek, taking him down fast, before bounding back into the shadows.

 

“Wha’ was tha’?”  A short, greasy, blond-haired man shouted in anger.

 

“Yadu is dead.”  One of the others, a dark-skinned man, replied in fear.  “Never saw what did him.”

 

“Keep your eyes open.”  A short, stocky bruiser at the front growled.  “Somethin’s out there.”

 

They were all looking back now, from where they’d come from, so I flitted past the front of the group, stabbing one of my needles into the stocky bruiser’s arm as I passed.  The man hissed in pain and tugged the needle out.  He stared at the needle, before crashing to his knees and then falling face first onto the ground.

 

I could have just launched myself into the middle of them and killed them all.  If I were honest though, I’d have to admit that I enjoyed playing with them, inspiring fear, watching it bloom and spread.  In the end, I let three of the men flee, back towards the dock.  I felt somewhat satisfied with the whole affair, I’d been fighting front and centre a little too much of late, and this had been a welcome return to form.

 

I found Idina and Kaja at the end of the alley.  Kaja was artfully concealed behind several wooden boxes, while Idina waited on the other side of the alley, her hand tight on the shoulder of a tall, blonde-haired girl.  I frowned.  When had I started collecting young women?

 

“I suppose there’s a story here.”  I said, resigned to whatever was coming next.

 

“She started following us after we left you.”  The Warlock filled in.  “I spotted her crossing one of the roofs and grabbed her when she climbed down.”

 

The girl struggled in Idina’s grasp, but the Warlock had a good hold of her.  She was taller than me, almost a foot taller than Idina, but thin, verging on gangly.  Her hair was cut short and I figured her to be close to Kaja’s age.

 

“What do you want?”  I asked the girl.  “Why were you following us?”

 

She shrank back from me, as far as Idina would let her.

 

“Wasn’t.”  The girl replied hotly.  “I was following those men.”

 

“Why?”

 

Again, the girl tried to shake off Idina to no effect.

 

“Why were you following them?”  I pressed.

 

“Because they killed my brother!”  The girl spat.  “I saw them running out of our house.”

 

“And you were going to do what, exactly?”

 

“Kill ‘em!”  She replied, hotly.

 

“With what?”  I asked, annoyed.

 

The girl fought against Idina’s grip.
 

“I’d find something!” 

 

I sighed.  “They’d have had you for breakfast.  Doesn’t matter now anyway, four of them are dead and the other three are running for their lives.”

 

The girl froze.  “You let them go?”

 

I shrugged.  “They weren’t interested in playing anymore.”

 

“Where’d they go?”  The girl demanded.  “I’ll finish them myself.”

 

I shook my head.  “Don’t be stupid.  One of them on his own could kill you.  Just get yourself home and mourn your brother with the rest of your family.”

 

The girl struggled again, harder, more desperate, but Idina held her tight.

 

“Let me go!”  She howled.

 

“This is making too much noise.”  Idina observed.

 

“You’re right.”  I agreed.

 

I stepped up and slapped the girl across the face.  Not too hard, but not softly either.

 

“Stop it!”  I growled.  “You’ll go back home to your family and that’ll be the end of it.”

 

“I don’t got any family left.”

 

“Not my problem.”  I replied.  “Go home.”

 

The girl sighed and slumped forward.

 

“You realise the moment I let her go, she’s going to try and go after them, right?”  Idina said.

 

“Obviously.”  I replied, annoyed.

 

“You can’t let her.  They’ll kill her.”

 

“I know.”  I growled.  “But what do you want me to do?  We’re in enough trouble as it is.”

 

“Where do you live?”  Idina asked the girl.

 

“None of your business.”  She spat back.

 

Idina shook her a little and repeated the question.

 

“Near the Fishhook inn.”  The girl admitted.

 

“Take us there.”  Idina ordered.

 

“And if I don’t?”  The girl asked, angrily.

 

“Then maybe I will let you go, and let those men have their way with you.”

 

The girl started to say something then paused.  I could see wheels turning in her mind as she thought things through.

 

“If I take you to my home.”  She said after a moment.  “Will you kill those men for me?”

 

I glanced at Idina, who shrugged her shoulders. 

 

“I can do that.”  I said.

 

“Deal.”  The girl said and extended her hand.

 

I took her hand and shook it.

 

“Deal.”  I replied.

 

The girl turned and trotted off.

 

We followed her, staying a little distance behind.  I kept a close eye on the houses around us but didn’t see anyone following.  The sky was definitely starting to lighten, as the night gave way to morning.  Our young guide turned onto a street, slowed, and then stopped altogether.  I moved up to her and touched her shoulder.

 

“Are you alright?”  I asked, carefully.

 

She nodded slowly and pointed.  “My house is just over there.”

 

I looked where she indicated and saw the house with the flowers in the windows.

 

“The one with the flowers?”  I asked.

 

She nodded again.  “Our mother always liked to have flowers, so after she died, I grew what I could find in pots.”

 

I cursed silently and pulled her to the side of the street.

 

“Was your brother named Petre?”

 

The girl pulled back from me and stared.

 

“How do you know that?”

 

“I was supposed to meet him tomorrow.  Today I suppose now.”

 

The girl eyed me.
 

“Why?”

 

“He was going to put me in touch with someone.”

 

“Isidor!”  The girl growled.

 

I nodded.  “Do you know someone else who can take us to him?”

 

“I can.”

 

I thanked the Gods.  Maybe we’d get out of this cursed place after all.

 

“When?”

 

“I’ll take you now.”  She replied.  “And when we get there, I want you to kill him.”

 

I sighed.  “What about the three men that I let go?”

 

“It’s Isidor’s fault Petre is dead.  I warned him that working for that smuggler would get him killed, but he said we needed the money.  Those men were just local thugs.  Someone else will kill them eventually”

 

“I can’t just go killing everyone who’s done you wrong.”  I protested.  “Look, if you take me to him, I’ll try to get him to pay you some sort of weregild.”

 

“I don’t want money!”  The girl hissed.

 

“Well, what do you want?”

 

She faltered.  “I – I just want Petre back.”

 

“He’s not coming back.  You know that.”  I said sympathetically.

 

“I know.”  She replied, softly.  “But I still want Isidor to pay!”

 

“I’ll see what I can do.”  I reassured her.  “Maybe you’ll have enough to set yourself up somewhere else.”

 

She shrugged.

 

“I didn’t ask before.”  I said.  “What’s your name?”

 

“Rosa.”  The girl answered.

 

“Well, Rosa, how about you take us to Isidor.”

 

She shook her head but turned back towards the dock.

 

“Come on.”  She said, in resignation.  “We’ll need a boat.”

 

So, back to the dock we went.  Rosa led us to a small wooden pier, where several fishing boats were tied up.  The long, narrow boats could be rigged with a single sail, but could also be rowed or even poled if needed.  Rosa jumped down into one and started untying it.

 

She whispered.  “Do any of you know how to sail a boat?”

 

We shook our heads.

 

“Then sit in the bow and stay out of my way.”

 

I let Kaja get onboard first, while I kept watch, followed by Idina.  Once the boat was untied, I jumped down and took a seat near the mast.  I gestured to Kaja and she handed over the bow and quiver.  I pulled an arrow, checked it, and held it ready to nock if needed.  The boat rocked as Rosa pushed us away from the pier.

 

“You.”  She whispered to Kaja.  “Come here and hold the tiller.”

 

Kaja crawled back to the stern of the boat and sat where Rosa indicated, taking the tiller in her hands.

 

“Move this where I say, when I say.  Understand?”  Rosa ordered.

 

Kaja nodded nervously.

 

“Relax.  It’s easy.”  Rosa assured her.

 

Then the girl moved to a locker in the bow and opened it, pulling out a carefully folded sail.  She unfolded the patched sail and after attaching it to the lines, hoisted it up the mast.  She pointed slightly to her left, and Kaja responded.

 

“Good.”  Rosa encouraged her as she adjusted the sail.

 

The boat began to pick up speed, and Rosa pointed to her left again.  Not long after we were sailing down the river, staying close to the northern bank.

 

“Do we have far to go?”  I asked Rosa.

 

“It’ll take a few hours.”  She answered.  “He stays deep in the delta, on a little island.  It’s hard to get to unless you know the way.  You might as well take your ease for a while.”

 

About an hour downriver from Hien, Rosa pointed towards where a smaller channel split off from the river.

 

“There.”  She said.  “Keep us close to the northern bank until I tell you.”

 

Kaja had a look of concentration on her face as she followed Rosa’s orders. 

 

“A little closer.”  She said as the boat slipped into the narrow channel.

 

The boat seemed to slow for a moment, then Rosa nodded.

 

“Good, we’re in.”

 

We sailed on along the narrow channel.  Bushes of some sort grew thickly on either side, their roots seemingly immune to the salty water.  Deeper and deeper into the delta we sailed, until finally Rosa pointed at a channel barely wider than the boat, almost completely hidden by the thick bushes.

 

“Straight up the middle.”  She advised Kaja, as she started lowering the sail.

 

The boat slipped into the little channel without a hitch.  The bushes blocked out a lot of the daylight, the sun having completely crested the horizon an hour previous.  Rosa untied a long pole from the side of the boat.  It was over twice her height in length and looked like it was well used.  She carried it to the rear of the boat and nudged Kaja aside.

 

“I’ll take it from here.”  She said, remaining standing.

 

Slowly, she poled the boat forward, keeping it in the centre of the narrow channel, until finally it spilled out into something like a large pond.  At one side a solid looking wooden pier jutted out, and Rosa guided the boat up to it with what seemed like very little effort.  She pulled the pole in when she judged the boat close enough and then made her way to the bow.  She took up a length of rope and jumped onto the pier, securing the boat.

 

“Come on.”  She said.  “We don’t have far to go.”

 

We scrambled out of the boat and found a rough path at the end of the pier that looked well-travelled.  The path disappeared into the undergrowth and bushes, hiding what lay ahead from our view.  I didn’t like how it looked, probably because I wasn’t the one in charge.  I listened to our surroundings and found the area to be remarkably quiet.  I was pretty sure we weren’t alone. 

 

“You follow her.”  I whispered to Idina.  “I’ll take the rear.  Stay sharp.”

 

The Warlock nodded and gestured to Kaja to stay between us.  We left the pier and followed Rosa into the bushes.

 

The path meandered back and forth, and I wasn’t sure that its wandering wasn’t intentional.  I couldn’t see much beyond the path, there was just too much in the way of trees and bushes.  The trees were somewhat stunted, but the smallest I’d seen still managed to top ten or twelve feet. I wouldn’t have wanted to try cut through the undergrowth and bushes, much of the vegetation seemed to have thorns of one sort or another.  Anyone attempting to break through would be cut to shreds.

 

Ahead, Rosa turned a corner and disappeared from view, followed a moment later by Idina.  I heard a vague noise and, maybe a dried twig snapping.  I acted before I’d fully identified the noise and leapt up into a nearby tree.  This one was some sort of winter variety, so it still had its leaves, which hid me remarkably well. 

 

Kaja disappeared around the turn, following Idina and then I waited.

 

A moment later I heard Kaja shriek and Idina shout in anger.  An ambush then, to capture, not kill, as I suspected.  Someone like Isidor would never leave the pier to his island unwatched.  The meandering path would give anyone watching the pier time to get a small force in place.  The high growth would ensure anyone coming ashore wouldn’t see the ambush until it was too late.  Isidor was a smart operator. 

 

A minute later two men, carrying what looked like well-maintained bows and wearing patched but serviceable leather armour, ran around the bend, arrows nocked and ready.  They were looking at each side of the trail and looking confused.  Obviously, they’d expected to either find me on the trail, or in the bushes.  I don’t know why it didn’t occur to them to look up.

 

They walked carefully underneath me and were still looking to either side and ahead as I dropped down behind them, one of my toxin coated needles in either hand.  The needles struck home, sinking into the back of their necks and the two men collapsed to the ground, barely making a sound.  I cleaned the needles and replaced them in my wristband, before rolling the two men into the bushes, just off the path.  I figured that in another few minutes, they’d send someone else to check up on these two.  I leapt back up into the tree and waited.

 

Sure enough, a few minutes later another man walked cautiously around the bend.  Like the first two, he also held a bow, arrow at the ready.  He glanced almost continuously around him nervously.  I waited until he passed beneath me and was about to drop down when he turned around.

 

“They’re not ‘ere!”  The man shouted back.

 

“What do you mean they’re not there?”  Someone shouted back from around the bend.

 

“Ain’t no sign of ‘em!”  The man beneath me replied.

 

He started walking back towards the turn and I chose that moment to strike.  I dropped down, another needle ready, and struck.  Like the first two, he fell to the ground, unconscious.

 

I replaced the used needle in my wrist band and rolled the man into the undergrowth to join his friends.  I pulled my bow from over my shoulders and took an arrow from my hip quiver.  I nocked it and crept towards the bend in the path.

 

“Michal?”  The hidden man called.

 

The man waited for a moment and called again when Michal, presumably the man I’d just rolled into the undergrowth, didn’t respond.

 

“Gods damn it!  You better be dead, or I’ll kill you myself!”

 

I drew back the arrow and stepped around the bend.

 

Idina, Rosa and Kaja lay on the ground, bound hand and foot, and a rag stuffed in their mouths.  Idina looked angry, but she had kept near to Kaja, who looked terrified.  Just beyond them, looking right at me was a single pale skinned man, a bow in his hand and an arrow drawn back.

 

He let the arrow fly, with a snarl. 

 

I dodged aside as I saw him loose the arrow and felt it fly past.  I loosed my own arrow and it slammed into the ground between his feet.  I had another on the string, drawn back and ready before he had drawn his next arrow.

 

“Drop the bow.”  I ordered calmly.  “The first was a warning.  I’m here to see Isidor.  Roland sent me.”

 

The man hesitated.   “Roland?”

 

“From Proteshi.”

 

“I’ve ‘eard Isidor speak of ‘im.  What ‘ave you done with the others?”

 

“They’re sleeping.”  I informed him.  “They’ll wake in about an hour or so, with sore heads.”

 

The pale skinned man considered for a moment, taking his time to make up his mind.

 

“I’ll let Isidor work this out.”  He decided as he put up his bow.

 

I put the arrow back in my quiver and went to Kaja kneeling to cut her bonds.

 

The man bent down to cut Idina free, but the Warlock parted her arms and legs, breaking the rope with ease and stood up, spitting out the rag in her mouth.  The man took a step back in surprise.

 

“Easy.”  I called to Idina, or Aavan I supposed.  “He was just doing his job.  It was nothing personal.  Right?”

 

“Right!”  The man gasped, nodding his head.  “No offense meant miss.”

 

Idina shuddered and turned to look at Kaja.

 

“Are you okay?”  Idina asked the girl, as I took the rag from her mouth.

 

Kaja nodded.  “I think so.”

 

I squeezed her shoulder and pulled her to her feet.

 

“She’s fine.”  I assured Idina.  “She’s tough.”

 

I moved to Rosa, who had her back to me and rolled her over to start cutting her ties.  Tears streaked her cheeks and she looked like she’d been roughly handled. I glared at the man while cutting her free.

 

“Why did you hit her?”

 

The man shrugged.  “She’s lucky we didn’t kill ‘er.  ‘er brother works for Isidor and ‘as protection.  She does not ‘ave permission to be ‘ere.”

 

“Petre is dead.  She’s here because he couldn’t be.”

 

The man sighed.  “Well don’t that set the cat rightly among the pigeons.  Alright, come on then.  Let’s get you to Isidor.”

 

“And the rest of your men?”  I asked.

 

“They were stupid enough to get jumped, they can sleep it off and make their own way back.”

 

We headed off again, following the path until we eventually found ourselves in a small hollow, with a large, well-made log cabin at the centre.  The man knocked on the door and it opened almost immediately. 

 

The man pointed over his shoulder towards me.  “Says he’s ‘ere to see you, says, Roland sent ‘im.”

 

The door opened fully and a stocky, black haired man, about my height stepped out of the cabin.  Isidor I assumed.  He glared at Rosa and pointed a finger at her.

 

“What are you doing ‘ere?”

 

I stepped in front of her, shielding the girl from the smuggler.

 

“Her brother’s dead, and she agreed to bring us.”  I replied.

 

“And you are?”

 

“Marek Asherah.”

 

“The assassin.”  Isidor breathed.  “Roland said ‘e’d send someone but didn’t say ‘ou.”

 

I shrugged.  “I needed to be away from Proteshi for a while.”

 

Isidor shook himself and stepped aside from the door, gesturing inside.
“Come in, come in.  Make yourself comfortable.”

 

We filed into the cabin and found ourselves in a comfortable room.  A stone fireplace dominated one side of the room, a small fire lit.  Large cushions were spread around a low table, close to the fireplace, and two closed doors led deeper into the cabin.  Isidor took a cushion close to the fire and sat down, gesturing for us to sit.

 

“So.”  The smuggler sighed.  “Petre is dead.” 

 

I nodded.  “We were lucky to find Rosa.  Otherwise we’d still be hiding in Hien.”

 

“Amoud, the rat bastard is getting bold.”

 

“Amoud?”  I asked.

 

“An Oerigathi merchant.  Recently ‘e’s decided that ‘e wants to take over my business.  Been trying to kill me since.”

 

“Why haven’t you fought back?”

 

“Fought back?”  Isidor asked, incredulous.  “Are you daft?  ‘e’s Oerigathi.  The law’s on ‘is side.”

 

“So, you sit back and take it?”

 

Isidor snorted.  “Gods no.  I still get cargo in and out, and I called in a favour from Roland.”

 

“Me.”

 

“You.”  The smuggler confirmed.

 

“What do you want me to do?”

 

“It’s plain as the nose on your face.  I want you to protect me.”

 

I shook my head.  “If you want a bodyguard, Roland sent the wrong person.  I’m here because I needed to be away from Proteshi for a while, but I can’t stay here forever.  Why don’t I just kill Amoud instead?”

 

“Impossible.”  Isidor sighed.  “You’ve no way to get to ‘im.  ‘e’s got ‘is yurt set up close to the Khan’s camp.  Not part of it, but close enough that e’s well protected.  Only Oerigathi can get out of the foreign quarter and anyone not Oerigathi is killed on sight.”

 

I shrugged.  “Shouldn’t be a problem.”

 

The smuggler stared at me.  “Shouldn’t be a problem?  You are daft!”

 

“I’ve been called worse.  Does Amoud have his own guards?”

 

“The man never goes anywhere without a few guards.  I’ve no idea what ‘is camp looks like, but I’d guess ‘e ‘as maybe ten men guarding ‘im.”

 

“Shouldn’t be too hard then.”

 

Isidor shook his head.  “I’d ‘eard you’re good, but no one ever said you was stupid.”

 

I smiled.  “Just trust me.  I’ll need Rosa to take me back to Hien.”

 

“Just you?”  Idina interjected.

 

I nodded.  “As long as you don’t mind staying here and keeping an eye on Kaja.”

 

“I’m not a nursemaid.”  Idina grumbled.

 

“Just keep her out of trouble.  Let her practice her bow work.”

 

Idina rolled her eyes and nodded.  “Fine.  I could use a break from all the travelling.”

 

“I’ll need a few things.”  I said to Isidor.  “And a meal would be nice.”

*

It was a dark, miserable evening when Rosa guided the boat up to the pier. 

 

“You going to be alright?”  I asked her.

 

“Be fine.”  She replied, as she secured the boat to the pier.

 

I nodded to her as I stepped on to the pier.  “Alright. I’ll meet you at the warehouse later.”

 

Rosa rolled her eyes.  “Yes, just like we planned at Isidor’s, and just like you said on our way here.”

 

“Just making sure.” I replied, before disappearing into the darkness of the late evening.

 

I had decided that I needed to see the two gates.  Named the River gate and the Khan’s gate, these were the only breaks in the wall that surrounded the foreign quarter.  Consequently, the only way to enter Oerigath properly, from the river, was through one of those two gates.  I wanted to see what I was up against.  I walked along the dock towards the nearest part of the wall, ignoring the heavy mist that kept threatening to become a legitimate downpour.  Somewhere along the dock, about half-way to the wall from where I’d left Rosa, I became aware of someone following me.  I sighed.  I had enough to be doing, without dealing with common thugs.

 

I slowed down a little, letting the person catch up to me, without being obvious about it, and kept a hand on one of my knives.  A slight hitch in the stranger’s footsteps let me know that they’d realised that I’d slowed.  The fact that they didn’t slow down to match me, or rush to take me then and there let me know that they didn’t care.  Whoever it was, they weren’t worried.  Either they were stupid, or dangerous.  I hoped for stupid.

 

I stopped and turned around, and a moment later the tall, thin man from Petre’s house walked out of the mist.  He was wearing a dark woollen cloak of a good weave, and dark clothes.  He nodded to me, and stopped a few feet away from me, keeping his hands out in the open.  Not stupid then.  Damn.

 

“I thought we should talk.”  The man announced.

 

I shrugged.

 

“We can talk here in the rain, or in a warm taproom, if you’ve a mind.”  He offered.

 

“We’ll talk here.”

 

The man shrugged.  “Fair enough.”

 

“Who are you?”

 

“Tytus Beran.  You?”

 

“You’re following me, and you don’t know who I am?  That’s not very smart Tytus.”

 

“My employer hasn’t seen fit to tell me.”

 

“Smart of him, I think.  You should ask yourself why he hasn’t told you, if he even knows himself.  You can call me Urban Kral.  Say your piece.”

 

“I know you’re working for Isidor.”  He revealed.  “I want you to step away from the job.”

 

I laughed.  “Why should I do that?”

 

“My employer is a powerful man and will squash Isidor like a worm.  He is always looking for people like us to work for him.  I can guarantee that he’ll pay more to work for him than Isidor is paying you right now.”

 

I rolled my eyes.  “Money.  You want me to break contract for money.”

 

“And the chance of more, much more.”

 

I grunted.  “Alright.  That’s the lure.  Where’s the whip?”

 

Tytus narrowed his eyes, annoyed.  “If you refuse to walk away, I’ll kill you.”

 

I smiled.  “There it is.  How about you go back to your master and I’ll have a good hard think about it.”

 

“This is your only chance to walk away, Urban.”  Titus warned.

 

“Like I said.  I’ll think about it.”

 

“You do that.”

 

I smiled at him, as he turned to walk away and waited before he’d disappeared into the evening before sighing.  Why couldn’t these jobs ever be easy?

 

I turned away from the torchlit wooden wall I could see in the distance and left the dock area.  I didn’t know how, but the man, Tytus, had found me far too quickly.  There were only two possibilities that I could think of.  Either someone was betraying Isidor, or someone had abilities that I was unaware of.  Both possibilities were worrying.  I needed to break the trail.  That would leave me free to continue my work.

 

Twenty minutes later, I had a new set of clothes and I’d changed my face again, as well as my hair colour.  The Oerigathi I’d ambushed would wake in a few hours, naked, with a sore head and probably swear never to drink again.  I made my way back towards the wall.  Now that I looked Oerigathi, I shouldn’t have a problem looking around the yurts, as long as I didn’t have to speak.  I couldn’t manage to duplicate their accents if my life depended on it.  I had already adopted the swagger they all seemed to walk with and had my own weapons hidden beneath my new clothes.

 

I made it through the closest gate without mishap with a nod to one of the warriors guarding the gate.  I didn’t get so much as a second glance.  So far so good.  Isidor had said that Amoud had his yurt set up close to the Khan’s site.  How he knew that I didn’t know, but the Khan’s pavilion was hardly difficult to find.  It was set atop a hill, several hundred metres from the wall, overlooking the harbour.  I could see a rough muddy road, twisting its way around, surely leading to the top of the rise.  Amoud would be camped close to that road, Isidor had assured me.

 

I spent the next few hours wandering among the yurts close to the rise, not lingering anywhere for more than a few minutes before moving on another bit.  By the time I wandered through the dock gate, and back into the foreign quarter, I’d figured out where the Oerigathi merchant was camped and roughly how many men he had.  The mist had finally turned to rain as I walked towards the warehouse where I’d arranged to meet Rosa.  I’d let her know that she’d need to wait another day, I’d kill the merchant tomorrow night.

 

I approached the warehouse in a roundabout fashion, taking my time to make sure I wasn’t being followed.  If anything, I took more care than I normally would.  Something about Tytus finding me on the dock so fast worried me.  As soon as I was sure there was no one around, I ducked into one of the warehouses, not the one I’d agreed to meet Rosa in, but beside it.  I stole through the building and then hid in the rafters, watching, waiting. 

 

For an hour I waited, letting my features return to normal, and no one showed.  Maybe I was being too paranoid.  I laughed silently.  As an assassin, was it even possible to be too paranoid?  I dropped to the ground and crept out of the warehouse and into the one beside it, staying to the shadows.  Rosa had set up a little camp behind several large stacks of crates, well hidden in the back of the warehouse.  I made a little noise to let her know I was there and let her come out to me.

 

“Well?”  She asked.  “Is he dead?”

 

I laughed softly.  “Gods no.  I had to find him first and get the lay of the land.  It’ll be tomorrow night.  We’ll be out of here and on our way back to Isidor by the dawn.”

 

Rosa scoffed.  “From the way Isidor was carrying on, I thought you were some sort of master assassin.”

 

I smiled.  “I’m careful is what I am.  Isidor can’t be linked to this, otherwise he’ll be hunted down and killed.  I’ll arrange it so he won’t be.”

 

“That doesn’t sound too exciting.”

 

I shrugged.  “It’s not.  If it’s exciting, you’ve done it wrong.”

 

“So, tomorrow night.”

 

I nodded.  “Tomorrow night.  Do you have enough food and water?”

 

“Plenty.”  She confirmed.

 

“Good.  I’ll meet you at the boat, two hours before dawn.”

 

“Don’t get killed.”  She warned me.  “You still need to convince Isidor to give me money.”

 

I smiled.  “You’ll get it.”

 

I crept out of the warehouse again, my Oerigathi face back in place and back into the other.  I didn’t want anyone who might be watching to know which building Rosa was in.  I was slipping out of the building when something buzzed past me, close by.  I turned to see what it was, just as an arrow slammed into my shoulder, throwing me to the ground.

 

My mind swam for a moment, but I pulled myself together.  If I hadn’t been turning, that arrow would have gone through my heart.  I didn’t think even I’d be able to survive that.  I pushed myself to my hands and knees, staying in the shadow of crate.  Another arrow skittered off the wall behind me, just above my head.  Tytus, it had to be Tytus.  I had no idea how he’d found me again, but somehow, he had.  I crawled back into the warehouse, leaving a trail of blood behind me.  Gods but it hurt.  I knew what I had to do, but I wasn’t looking forward to it.  I took a deep breath, grabbed the arrow, and before I could think more on it, I yanked it out, biting back a scream of pain.

 

I tossed the arrow aside and forced myself to stand.  Pain would pass, and the bleeding would stop, I just needed to survive the next few hours.  I heard one of the warehouse doors crash open and knew I wasn’t alone.

 

“All right.”  I muttered.  “You had your chance.  Now it’s my turn.”

 

Gathering my strength, I leapt up into the rafters.  I almost fell, betrayed by my injured shoulder, but managed to haul myself up into the darkness.  I cursed silently and slipped along the beam, some fourteen or fifteen feet above the floor.  I’d long ago discovered how to alter my eyes to see in the dark, and so, while I was perched in the darkness, I could see reasonably well.  Three men entered the warehouse through the broken door.  I smiled thinly.  The three men who’d run away from the alley.  It looked like the greasy haired man was leading them.  Good for him.  Each carried a sword, but they held them awkwardly, like they weren’t sure how to use them.  There was a noise of a flint being struck and a torch was lit.  I smiled.  That was much better, with the torchlight in their eyes they would have no night vision.  The greasy haired man pushed the other two forward, pointing in the direction of where I’d crawled back into the building.  I padded along the beam, high overhead, following them, unseen.  Wounded as I was, I didn’t have the energy for a physical engagement.  I needed this to be quick and quiet. I waited until their leader stepped away for a moment and pulled two of my poisoned needles from my wrist strap and dropped down behind the two. 

 

I hit the ground hard, my legs taking the impact easily, and stabbed the needles into their necks.  They started to turn in surprise and fell to the ground as I pulled the needles out.  Their greasy haired leader spun around as I jumped forward and gave him both needles in the neck, hoping there was enough toxin left on each to do the job.  The man swung his sword at me, a wild motion lacking any control.  I stepped back as he took a step towards me and watched as his leg buckled beneath him.  He fell to the ground, trying to say something and was dead a moment later.  I retrieved my needles and glanced around.  The swords had made a good amount of noise as they’d clattered to the ground, but no one else had yet come to investigate.  I quenched the torch and retreated into the darkness.

 

While I waited, I checked my shoulder as best I could and was pleased to see that it had stopped bleeding.  That was a good start.  Another five or ten minutes passed and still no one came to investigate.  I knew I was going to have to be careful as there was still a bow man out there somewhere.  I thought it unlikely that one of the three men had been the bowman, they’d not have left the weapon lying around for someone to find.  No, the bowman was waiting on a roof somewhere nearby, with a good view of the warehouse, so that if I escaped from the three, he or she would still be able to kill me.  I needed to do something unexpected.  The only realistic option was to wait, find a comfortable spot and let them worry that, somehow, they’d missed me.

 

A footstep interrupted my thoughts. 

 

“Well.”  Tytus called out.  “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised if those three idiots are dead, you get what you pay for.”

 

I cursed quietly.  Again, he’d found me.  Was I losing my touch?

 

“You may as well come out of the shadows.  They won’t help you.”

 

He must have thought me stupid.  I stayed where I was and remained quiet.  He might know I was in here, but he couldn’t know where.

 

“Are you really going to make me come in there?”  The assassin asked, loudly.

 

I kept my mouth shut and tested my wounded shoulder, finding it still weak.

 

I heard Tytus start walking deeper into the warehouse.

 

“I told you to walk away.”  He called.  “I warned you.  You have no one to blame but yourself for what comes next.”

 

Fallan’s balls but the man loved the sound of his voice!  I edged carefully around a stack of crates, positioning myself for when he’d walk past me and waited.  He passed me, about a dozen feet away from me, bow in hand, an arrow nocked and ready to release.  I braced myself for the jump.  A quick pass, slice his neck open, and he’d be down before I stopped moving.  I slowed my breathing and paused to get my timing right.  Tytus, with no warning, suddenly spun around and a wall of fire suddenly exploded out from him, right at me.

 

I didn’t have time to think, I reacted and hurled myself up into the rafters.  I grabbed beam and hauled myself up one handed, dropping my knife as I did.  I didn’t stop, I kept moving, running along the rafter beam.  A ball of fire shrieked past my shoulder and I could feel the heat of it as it passed.  Tytus was a Gods damned Wizard?  I leapt to the next beam and reversed the direction of my run.  Why in the Void would a Wizard become an assassin?  I leapt to the ground and rolled behind an untidy pile of crates.  It still didn’t explain how he had known where I was though.  Something about all this was wrong.

 

An arrow splintered the wood beside my head.  I leapt to my feet again and fled into the deep shadows.  I needed to get out of this situation, fast.  I’d never fought a Wizard and had no plans to start anytime soon.

 

I ran face first into a wall and crashed to the ground.  A wall?  How had I become so disorientated?  I rolled back to my feet and looked around, trying to work out where I was.  Another arrow split the darkness and hammered into my chest.  I gasped and looked down, seeing the feathered shaft sticking out of me.

 

Oh Gods.

 

Another arrow slammed into me, piercing my right thigh, the point passing right through.

 

I groaned and slumped to my knees as Tytus stepped out of the darkness.  I hadn’t even seen him.

 

He shouldered his bow and drew a sword, a curved sabre of some kind.  He didn’t pause as he walked towards me, he simply timed his steps and thrust his sword at just the right moment.  I almost didn’t feel it as the blade slid into my guts.

 

“You could have left.”  He reminded me as he drew out his blade with a savage twist.

 

I could feel my lifeblood pulsing out of me, I couldn’t breathe, my body was on fire. 

 

Tytus stepped closer and kicked me in the chest, knocking me over into the growing pool of my own blood.

“I’m sure Fallan will be happy to receive you.  Tell him Tytus sends another his way.”

Everything went dark.

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© ODunin 2020