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  • Writer's pictureK.C. Roy

Unlikely Assassin

Updated: Apr 9

“Another drink?”

“No…” The bar maid caught him off guard. When he looked up to answer, the last thing he expected was a foreigner. Her hair and features were average and unremarkable when compared to some of the other bar maids and tavern whores around the room. Her eyes stopped him. A vibrant ice blue that sent a jolt through him. Instead of saying more he turned his gaze back to the tavern’s busy main room. He didn’t look at anything in particular, just staring. Noise for the eyes is how he thought of it.

“Perhaps an ear to listen?” Her hand brushed his as she leaned slightly against the table. The hand felt soft, but he could feel the calluses and wear on them. This woman hadn’t lived a soft life. Why did she work here? Why the empire? She didn’t stand to make much of a living in her current profession.

“No. I have what’s left of this drink and the solitude I greatly value.” He held the half full tankard up as proof. A soft smile spread across her lips that didn’t quite reach her eyes as she subtly leaned in closer to him. The angle provided him with a better view down the front of her blouse should he choose to look. His irritation grew. He wouldn’t be a mark or a victim. If she came from here, she’d know who he was and take no for the answer it was.

“No!” The tankard slammed down onto the wood table sloshing some of its contents onto the tabletop and his hand in the process. The woman jerked her hand off the table and shrank away from him. His reaction and the slight buzz in his head told him he’d had enough to drink.

“Apologies, sir.” She bowed and just like that, she left. He watched her long enough to make sure she disappeared into the crowded room.

“Huh.” He shook his hand free of the drink before wiping it off on a handkerchief he pulled from inside his robe. His loss of control irritated him even more than her persistence. His thirst had disappeared. As he looked around the room again, he realized so had his desire to remain in the tavern. He’d come to the tavern to think. He needed a change of atmosphere and a place he couldn’t be found. Unlike the rest of the war council, he rarely frequented the taverns and brothels in the city. He worked, trained and spent time in his gardens at home.

Late as it was, the tavern showed no signs of slowing down. Being the largest and most popular in the city, it stayed busy. The three-story building took up an entire city block with auxiliary buildings used for storage of food, ale and other goods. During the busier season, extra rooms could be rented out in the smaller buildings that surrounded it. The main room made up most of the first floor with a huge fire pit taking up the center of the room with a fluted chimney above it. Not all the smoke made it up to the chimney leaving the room slightly hazy on colder evenings. Despite the late hour, it was still full of paying customers keeping the many bar maids and tavern whores hustling. They either provided a constant stream of food and drink or other services up a set of well-used stairs. Those not eating or whoring, gambled. Everyone kept busy and entertained at “The Final Rest”. It was part of the reason he’d chosen to come here. Except for the occasional bar maid, he spent his night mostly alone. It only took the first two whores being turned down rudely to get the word passed around that he didn’t want entertainment. He’d sat, watched and brooded for hours now and yet he still hadn’t come to any answers. The time to leave had long since passed.

He pulled a coin and showed it to the bar maid that had sold him his drinks for the evening. Once she’d seen it, he tossed the coin on the table and headed for the door. The slight buzz in his head reminded him again he’d had too much to drink or breathed in too much of the smoke that wasn’t all from the fire. Despite the imperial edict against them, illicit substances made their way into “The Final Rest”. The empire chose to overlook it as long as the owners kept it under control and paid their large “tax” bill. He should have left long ago. He had an early day of training recruits tomorrow and then meetings. He picked his way carefully through the crowded tables and stepped outside with a sigh of relief. The air smelled like any large city. Garbage, sewer, industry, and people, but compared to the stuffed smokey tavern, it helped clear his head of most of its buzzing.

The early morning hour meant once he walked far enough from “The Final Rest”, foot traffic vanished. The tavern was located closer to the main gate at the edge of the city. The location wasn’t an accident. It kept the rowdy customers and late-night revelers out of the more affluent areas, which kept complaints to a minimum. It also meant his long walk home would be quiet and solitary. He’d wasted the entire evening and achieved nothing.

During the last thousand years, the empire had raided and stolen from every one of its neighbors constantly. Apart from its southern border, that rested against the coast, it sat surrounded by six other nations. At over three times the size of the next largest nation, the empire was easily the largest nation on the continent. Over the past couple decades, the other nations had grown in technology, martial skills, and formed alliances with each other. The empire no longer had a bunch of fractious neighbors. The older members of the council refused to acknowledge the significance of the changes. It had been years since any of them had been to the borders or seen any conflict aside from a pillow fight with a tavern whore. The empire was struggling.

Once the individual squabbles stopped, they found they could defend themselves from the empire and still prosper. And prosper they did. They traded goods, technology, and ideas. The Wardens struggled to defend the borders from counter raids and the regular imperial troops provided no support. Their purpose was raiding and the wardens existed to defend the people. His frustration with the council’s blind stubbornness had no outlet. He kicked a loose stone angrily across the cobblestone walk. The motion changed the cadence of his steps for just a moment. He stopped walking and listened while he bent down and pretended to adjust one of his sandals. Silence greeted him. Had he imagined it? He shouldn’t have had so much to drink but the heat and smokey air in the tavern had made him thirsty. Part of the reason they kept the fire going year round.

“Heh… Stupid of me.” He shook his head as he stood and continued toward his house. He kept his head down, still lost in thought, but paid more attention to his surroundings now. The only sound echoing into the early morning was his footstep. Despite this, his inner senses told him something wasn’t right. The sound bothered him. He’d heard something while kicking the stone. He listened for a repeat of the slight noise but it didn’t come. Regardless, something wasn’t right. The more he thought about it the more sure he became. He glanced back down the street as he turned a corner but saw nothing behind him. Despite the light the streetlamps provided, deep shadows hugged the buildings where the light couldn’t reach. He didn’t have much further to go before reaching his house, but his gut told him something was coming.

He took his next step normally except just before his foot hit the ground, he held it from touching down while still letting the rest of his body move normally. The movement delayed his foot from touching for an extra second. There. The sound repeated. In the brief instant his foot should have hit the ground, the very faint sound of leather against stone carried to him. Someone very good at being quiet followed him. He needed to change things to favor him more. He only knew that they were behind him somewhere but not how far or even who. One person? Or two? More? He didn’t know and his current situation worked to their advantage. Halfway up the street was a narrow alley that would limit numbers and visibility. He continued moving naturally unsure if the person following had caught on to what he’d done. He didn’t change his steps again or rush in case they hadn’t noticed he was aware of them yet.

The dark opening of the alley could’ve been mistaken for a dark hole in the building wall. None of the streetlights were close to the opening leaving the depths of the alley pitch black. It was perfect. He casually turned down the alley, walked five steps and stopped facing the entrance. Not wanting what little light that reached this far to reflect off the metal, he left his blades sheathed. He would kick himself later for not bringing his sword. He had a couple of daggers, which he carried out of a matter of habit. He was well known and the council robes he wore literally screamed don’t mess with me. Why would he have to worry about being attacked in the capital?

He twisted and threw himself to the side barely avoiding the dark shape that fell from above. The attacker made almost no sound as they hit the ground next to him. Whoever this was, they were good. A foot lashed out, hit him in the chest and sent him stumbling into the alley wall. He immediately spun away from the spot. The glint of steel passed inches from his face and scraped along the brick wall. The sound was deafening in the darkness. He pulled his own blades and skipped back toward the alley entrance to create some distance before assuming a stance. One knife he held in a reverse grip with the blade centered in his chest to protect his heart. The other he held point forward and low, just above waist high. His positioning with the entrance at his back was not ideal. The light silhouetted him and exposed his back to possible accomplices. His attacker gave him no time to think about improving his situation as they closed the gap quickly.

A flurry of blows came at him. The low light made it hard to track his opponent and block everything. They only carried one blade to his two, so he focused his defense on following that hand and the occasional sparkle of light off their blade. A kick to his leg staggered him slightly, opening his head up as he caught his balance. He pulled his front hand up to block the glint of steel he saw up high. Too late, he realized his mistake. He jerked to the side while raising his back hand slightly. The knife he’d expected to come from up high came up at him from the other hand. It glanced off his own blade and slid across his chest opening a burning cut from the center of his chest to his shoulder.

His attacker knew he followed the reflected light from their blade and had used something else or switched hands. He’d almost paid for the mistake. Another kick pulled his leg out from under him. He didn’t fight it. Shoulder tucked, he fell to the side and rolled clear. He felt the air over his head stir as the next attack flew by where his head would’ve been had he tried to stay on his feet. The sound of rapid footsteps chased him before he could finish rolling clear. Taking a chance, he hurled one of his blades at them as he completed his first roll. The sound of steel on steel as they deflected the blade told him his throw had been accurate. The effort of blocking had slowed them slightly, giving him the room he needed to regain his feet.

The attacker now stood where he’d been, silhouetted in the alley’s entrance. They rushed forward again but he was ready this time and he moved with them to counter. The attacker stopped just short of engaging him and shifted to the side quickly. The move was supposed to draw him out and throw him off. He didn’t take the bait. He turned with them as he swayed slightly while keeping his weight on his toes and shifted back a half step to let the attacker know they would have to come at him. He still couldn’t be certain if they had a second knife or had simply used something reflective to create the glint he’d seen. He didn’t want to take the chance, so he waited.

The brief moment his attacker had been silhouetted gave him a surprise. They were smaller than he expected considering the power behind a few of the blows that landed. The slight frame would explain the soft nature of their foot falls. They wore all black with some sort of mesh fabric to cover the eyes. He had to assume the fabric stopped reflected light and made it impossible to see where they were looking. The eyes said a lot about what a person was thinking during a fight. Without that to go on, he could only rely on the body and a well-trained body could lie easily.

Tired of waiting, the assassin lunged forward, feigning an attack, and shifted to the side trying to get an angle on him. Instead of moving with them to block off the change of positions, he shifted in the opposite direction, opening a space between them again. His attacker had attacked fiercely and pressed him hard from the beginning. He got the impression they wanted to end this quickly. They rushed forward again, following almost the same pattern except their blade flicked out in a halfhearted attack. He slapped it away as he stepped opposite again.

“GGggrrr!” Searing pain flooded through the hand he held his knife in. He’d kept that hand centered over his chest to protect his heart. Had he chosen to block the knife strike with his own blade, whatever was sticking out of his arm now would be in his heart. He needed to end this just in case any of these blades were poisoned. Changing tactics, he rushed forward leading with an empty-handed attack toward their face. They countered with their empty hand and lashed out with a thrust of their knife. He blocked it with his own while still pressing forward hard. The assassin rotated as they stepped back trying to get out of his path. He turned with them throwing out multiple slashing attacks with his blade that crisscrossed his body. The sound of steel on steel rang out in earnest now.

Ting!… Ting… Tingtingtingting… accompanied by the slap of flesh on flesh as they trade punches at the same time.

He pushed the pace faster and faster. His attacker was flagging, unable to keep up with the speed of the exchange. He could feel the desperation in their movements. The measured steps and turns became lunges and giant shifts of direction as they tried desperately to gain space and take back control of the fight. Their leg lashes out with another kick, but he’d been waiting for the move. He switched his stance pulling the targeted leg out of the way. The attackers kick swept through unhindered, pulling them off balance. He lashed out with a straight kick of his own, catching them squarely in the hip and sending them flying away. He used the brief instant to pull the weapon, a small throwing dart barely longer than his finger, out of his forearm. He lunged forward in a small jump leading with his knee and caught the attacker square in the chest as they tried to regain their footing. The hit sent them flying out of the alley and into the light of the open street. The grunt of pain he heard, the first sound they’d made, didn’t sound right. Their movement said they were defeated; they just hadn’t admitted it yet.

“You’re about to die. Tell me who sent you and I’ll make it quick.” He walked slowly from the alley as the attacker regained their feet. The slight wobble as they straighten told him his assessment was correct. They were done. No answer came but their head turned slightly in one direction then the other. “You won’t make it.” If they wanted to run, he’d be faster, and he was sure they knew it too. He didn’t receive a verbal response, but the set of the shoulders and stance told him everything he needed to know. This would be to the death. So be it.

Resigned, the assassin attacked like a caged animal. They had nothing else to lose. Another thrown blade lead the first attack followed by a barrage of knife attacks from every angle imaginable. Desperation fueled their movements, and he was pressed hard to block or avoid every attack. He doesn’t. Many small cuts laced his forearms, and one graced his cheek where he was too slow in deflecting yet another thrown blade. The extent of his injuries were minor compared to what he’d inflicted. He used the small blade pulled from his arm to stab and slash every time they crossed their larger blades.

The attacker closed the distance again catching his knife hand with their free hand as they cross blades. The grip was slick with blood from all the cuts on both of their arms but it’s enough to hold him for a brief moment. The assassin thrusted a knee up between them. He twisted, taking the knee on the thigh and brought his free hand up from underneath stabbing quickly into the ribs twice with the small throwing dart. It is the first lethal hit either of them had landed. He tried for a third strike, but the assassin turned his body, and the knife strikes a rib getting stuck. With his hand slick with blood, the smooth handle slid from his grasp easily. He didn’t need it anymore, anyway. The knife was small, but it long enough he’d pierced the lung twice. The assassin shrank away bent sideways as they clutched at their side.

“Who sent you? Last chance.” The only answer he received was the wet rattle as blood filled the lung. They didn’t have long.

His attacker made one last attempt and lunged forward clumsily with an overhand attack. He sidestepped, going to the outside of the hand, and thrust his knife up under the ribs into the heart. The body slumped to the ground taking his knife with it. He was tired and his hands were slick with blood, his and theirs. If they had an accomplice, they would’ve intervened by now. Taking a moment to catch his breath, he stared at the body. In the full light of the streetlamps, it was even slighter than he’d first thought. Had they sent a mere child after him? The better question… who’d trained this assassin? They had been good.

He knelt down next to the body and rolled it over. It weighed almost nothing. Who trained children as assassins? He pulled the mask off the body and fell back on his butt staring in disbelief. It was the woman from the tavern. Her ice-blue eyes stared blankly up at the sky.

“A woman…” It was unheard of in the empire for a woman to fight. They ruled the home but were not allowed to use more than a kitchen knife. A woman capable of fighting, especially like this one had, shook him. If he’d taken her up on her offer for another drink or some company… He let the thought hang there as he considered the dead woman. Judging by her looks, she was most likely Anowan. He picked her hand up and felt it. He remembered the roughness of it from the brief touch in the tavern. Now it made sense to him. She had the calluses and scars associated with heavy weapons training. This wasn’t a one off. She had been trained her entire life as a fighter.

He searched her body, as respectfully as he could, in search of any clues. He found a single sheet of bloody paper folded up in a top pocket. There was nothing else. Unfolding the paper, he found a very good likeness of himself with his name, “Commander La’Toq” written below it. He let his hands fall and stared at the woman in contemplation. Another council member had gone missing a few days prior. Was it possible this happened? If the other nations had started using women for assassins… He thought about his own reaction to first seeing the assassin was a woman. The empire was unprepared for such a thing. They didn’t block foreigners, especially women from entering the empire. There could be a hundred assassins lurking in the city right now and the council would never suspect it. Of the twelve members, he was the only one that didn’t partake in the brothels and rarely visited the taverns. The audacity of it all made his mind go numb. Would they even believe him if he brought this to them? He was the youngest and his stiff nature hadn’t won him any friends among the other eleven members. The empire had been falling behind for years now. It wouldn’t be long before they got overrun if things didn’t change soon.

“I guess we’re going to spend the evening together after all, huh?” With a shake of his head, He stood up and considered the body again. He couldn’t leave her here like this. She’d been a good fighter and deserved the respect as such. Commander La’Toq bent down and carefully picked up the woman’s body. Luckily, he wasn’t far from his house.

“Women fighting…” The beginnings of an idea formed in his tired mind as he trudged home. An idea that would change the course of the empire and one girl’s life forever.


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