Author’s Note: I wrote this short story about a year and a half ago, intending to send it in to a magazine. It was sent back with the request to develop the characters more. It’s been sitting in a file on my computer since then, but I hope you enjoy.
As blood bubbled from her mouth with every painful breath, Sala struggled to get up from her sprawled position on the floor. One hand pressed into the stab wound between her ribs, trying to staunch the blood flow. A hooded figure stood close by, watching without movement, a thin dagger in one gloved fist.
“You should have followed your instructions, Sala Daen,” the man said in a hoarse, menacing tone of voice. She managed to get up on her knees, barely. She’d known who had sent this assassin when he strode through the door into her room and promptly stabbed her. She had failed in her assignment, and was now paying the price. Sala closed her eyes, prepared for her execution.
Two weeks earlier…
Sala Daen stole a glance behind her at the wooden target. Pivoting on one foot, the human threw a dagger flawlessly into the center of it. Taking off her tight leather gloves, she walked back and plucked the dagger from the bull’s-eye, slipping it back into one of the many sheaths looping across her chest.
A soft footstep on the cobblestones behind her made her twitch. Sala quickly tied back her thick hair and said, without turning around, “Come any closer, and ye’ll have a dagger blade in each o’ yer eyes befer you can blink.” Her accent was one she used fairly often when talking to potential targets. She had spent a lot of time when she was young in Oland City, and found their accents to be very intriguing.
“I wouldn’t shoot a messenger of my caliber, Sala Daen,” replied the intruder wryly. The woman turned around in surprise. “Michael?” she asked incredulously. The half-elf bowed to his old friend, spreading his hands and ducking his head in his odd way. Michael’s hair hung to his shoulders in a wind-swept look, black as pitch and covering his eyes. Straightening, the half-elf brushed it back from his face, smiling at her. His eyes always managed to surprise Sala whenever she saw them. They almost glowed in the light of the torches that lined the walls. His eyes were deep golden, and sparkled like that which you would find on the bottom of rivers.
She ran to him and embraced him tightly. Michael chuckled and hugged her. “It has been a long time, my friend,” he said quietly when they parted. Sala laughed and swept her arm out to the side, “What do you think of my humble abode?” They stood in a small courtyard outside of a rather large mansion. Michael appraised his surroundings with narrowed eyes, then nodded, “Very nice. I see–have heard–that you made a name for yourself.” It was her turn to narrow her eyes, “What do you mean, ‘have heard’?”
He produced a small, paper-wrapped package from inside his cloak. The dark leather of his armor blended well into the night. “I haven’t come for a social meeting, Sala, no matter how much both of us wish it is so. My employers want to hire you for a job even I don’t know about.” She snorted and replied, “You cannot be serious. Just because I am a well-known assassin doesn’t make it okay for potential employers to hire me without allowing me to meet them first.” Michael lowered his eyes to the ground and said quietly, “It wasn’t a request. They want you to do this job.” His voice became bitter, “Don’t think I had any say in this decision. I’ve been working for them for three years, and they want someone who they heard was a good assassin to do their dirty work, as if my contributions have been half-hearted.” The assassin’s gaze rose to meet hers, and the smoldering anger in his eyes was enough to make her step back.
Sala reached out to take the package, and her friend’s hands clenched tightly to it briefly before letting her have it. “I know you work hard. God knows you have pulled me out of enough scrapes,” she told him gently. “Why don’t you stay in my place for a night, and you can send back my answer to your employers, hm?” He nodded slowly, and let her lead him inside.
The flickering light of Sala’s desk lamp spilled over the letter written in a spidery hand. She sat in a wooden chair in front of the desk. The letter was disturbing at the very least. So much time and effort went in to getting this message to her through Michael, and she didn’t know if she was going mad, or if the parchment actually said what she thought it said.
It has come to our attention that we have a disloyal assassin working for our organization. We insist on your discretion and diligence in this matter, and hope you can complete the task in a timely fashion. You will be paid handsomely for your skills on this assignment. We hope to meet you personally when you have finished.
There was no signature, which put her mind ill at ease. With a short exhalation, she read on. She knew this was not part of the letter, but it was on the same parchment, so as to be read together.
Target will be most vulnerable when asleep. Three daggers hidden in breeches, one behind each wrist. Be wary, target is light sleeper.
Target name: Michael Crain
Michael always slept in his armor, never knowing when he would need to be ready to fight. Checking to make sure his weapons were in place, he threw back the blankets and prepared to sleep.
A thought came to him, and he turned to his pack sitting next to the bed, pulling out a small, leather-bound notebook.
It is imperative that I earn trust from Prisha and his associate if we are to continue this charade,
he wrote. Nothing I do seems to placate them, and I must stay on their good side for this to work. I don’t know if bringing Sala into this is some kind of scheme on their part to see what I’ll do, but I will follow their orders. For now.
He set aside the pen and lay back on the goose feather pillow. He hoped Sala didn’t get into any trouble because of him, but there wasn’t much he could do about it.
His eyes narrowed; he wanted desperately to know what was in that package.
Sala wore her assassin’s gear for the first time in months. She had never known she would need it in her own home, but this job was dangerous, so she wanted to be prepared. The black-dyed leather was form-fitted to her body to allow the best and most agile movement possible. Her specially made daggers had been created with a black metal alloy to prevent even minimal light from reflecting off the surface. She paused at an intersection of another hallway, checking down each way before continuing on. Sala shook her head, a frown forming underneath the black silk mask she wore over her mouth and nose. Much about Michael had changed since last she saw him. He seemed darker, and less friendly. Maybe these employers of his were the cause of it.
Gliding down the sconce-lit hallway, she kept to the shadows, instinctive, though she knew there was no need for it. Finally, she crouched in a small niche where a bust of some nobleman sat on a pedestal. She could never remember the names. Most items she had were gifts from people she did jobs for, in addition to the money paid, of course. Across the hallway, the door to Michael’s guestroom was shut tight, and most probably locked.
With quiet deftness, Sala drew her lock picks from a side pouch on her belt. She kept the locks in her manor well-oiled, in case of such an event where she needed to get in without attracting attention from guests, allowing the mechanisms to slide smoothly and quietly.
She slipped into the darkened room without so much as a sound, leaving the door ajar. Soft snores came from the bed, and Sala nearly chuckled in amusement. “Light sleeper” indeed, she thought to herself as she proceeded to her target. She stopped when she stood over him, mulling over her thoughts. She had known him since she was a small child, a refugee from his homeland. The humans had disowned him when they found out he was a half-elf, thinking him a freak of nature. They feared consequences of allowing him to stay, for no half-elf was allowed to exist on orders from the king himself.
Even though it would be an act of betrayal to her friend, she had always put the job over relationship, with few questions asked. She lifted one dagger, pondering the best way to kill him. Slitting his throat would be too messy, but a knife in the side would kill him quickly enough.
With a start, she realized Michael was no longer snoring. She looked down at him. His golden eyes stared up at her in silent resignation.
“You have come to kill me, then?” he asked.
Ten minutes later, the door opened, and Sala walked wearily down the hallway, locking it behind her. It had been hard for her to do what she needed to do, but she suspected that if she had done it differently, she would have gotten a lot more pay out of it. She pushed her mask down around her neck and wiped her palm across her face, letting out a frustrated sigh. It would have been a whole lot easier for her to refuse the offer if Michael hadn’t shown up with the package.
She paused at one of the large, stain-glass windows near her rooms and gazed out into the coming dawn. She wondered if she was going to regret her decision, then discarded the thought with a snort. She always regretted her decisions at some point. Though she didn’t know this new employer of hers, Sala knew it was going to come around and stab her in the back.
With a shaky laugh, Sala remembered thinking about being stabbed. The assassin was off by only a few inches. She wiped the blood from her chin and looked back up at her executioner, grinning.
Michael had told her to be careful when she allowed him to climb out the window. He had explained everything to her, and she knew now that these people were not ones she wanted to work for.
“You gonna kill me any time soon? I got a date with an ex-boyfriend in an hour, and I really want good reason not to show up,” she told the cloaked man. He stepped forward, his gloved hand clenching tight on his dagger.
Then the room seemed to explode.
Michael had been spying on his employers when they sent a man to kill her. He had thought they would go after him with another assassin they could trust, but realized they did not tolerate failure even from someone they had yet to test.
The half-elf followed the assassin all the way to Sala’s house, climbing up the side of the mansion and crouching on the roof. Why she ever chose a house with easy-to-climb walls, I will never know. He shook his head and focused on the task at hand.
Across the way, in her study, Sala paced the room with measured strides, brow furrowed in thought. Michael chuckled to himself. His laugh was cut short when his employers’ assassin opened the door and promptly stabbed her. In the right lung… that leaves her about two minutes before I have to plug up the hole and get her to a healer. Michael analyzed the distance between him and the window, and deduced that he would not have enough time to get there, even at his fastest sprint.
With a grunt, Michael pulled the huge black crossbow from his back, and fitted a bolt with a small explosive attached to the end. It was sleek in design, and light, but sturdy and able to fire at a distance of three hundred yards within seconds. The spark hissed on the fuse as he struck flint against stone. One smooth movement, and the assassin had it aimed where he wanted it, and waited until the fuse burned down to a nub before he fired. The concussion from the bolt made him stagger, and he winced at the sight of the entire wall exploding into the room. He hoped he hadn’t hit Sala with his poor choice of saving techniques.
Michael quickly fitted another bolt to the crossbow and aimed it precisely, this time avoiding the bombs and going for a simple barbed point. A deep breath, then he fired.
Sala peeked her head out from under her desk from where she had rolled to protect herself, shielding her eyes from the still-flying glass and wood from her out-facing wall. Her executioner stood peering out the window, tensed for battle, then she saw his eyes widen in the fading light before his head recoiled from impact.
Brain matter spurted from the back of his skull, the crossbow bolt piercing through and continuing on to embed into the opposite wall, blood dripping down the paneling. “God damnit,” she choked out. She would have to work for a week to get all that gore out of her carpets. The body collapsed to the ground, his eyes still wide open.
She closed her eyes again, and her fingers relaxed from the stab-wound. She was so tired of all this. Then somebody was shaking her urgently.
Her eyes opened and found herself staring into a clear riverbed full of gold. Michael blinked, and then said, “We’re even.”
Sala laughed painfully. “That we are, Michael Crain, that we are. The first round is on you, though.”
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