Joined: Wed Jul 31, 2002 5:00 pm
Location: Exeter, UK
[New Fiction] No Mercy
by Laurence J Sinclair
The monks eventually pass by, backs to me and inane prattle masking what little sound made as I drop to the ground. There had once been a time when I would have gladly killed them rather than pressing myself to the ceiling to wait, but such youthful impatience has been tempered by a deeper understanding of pain. They would have suffered in death, that is true, but only as a brief flourish compared to the agony that they will experience by living to see their mistress dead.
The corridors echo, but my footsteps leave no noise to be reflected. Whoever designed the abbey clearly never anticipated intruders, and any one of a dozen Guild initiates could have made it this far. I could have entrusted this mission to any of Tom's assassins, but while they would have completed the killing satisfactorily enough, they would not have delivered the message half as well.
The abbess' chamber does not even have a door to shelter her from the outside world. She sits meditating, her back to me, making the task almost too easy. The knives slide into my hands as I pace closer, my target easily distinguishable from her surroundings.
She sits alone in the centre of a room dominated by images of her god in his three aspects, choosing this night to shelter alone in the main worship hall of her abbey, her fragile form made all the more pathetic in comparison to the oversized statues. May she take comfort from these last few moments of prayer, before I snatch it all away from her. Perhaps I will drape her carcass across the altar for her monks to find in the morning? I see no reason not to shatter their faith as well as sending a warning that the alliance with the elves must end.
But a few wavering candle flames illuminate the room, providing shadows enough to make sneaking close to her all too easy. Her cross-legged form, almost waiting for my knives to slice into flesh, is inches from me as I pace forwards, matching my steps to her slowed, meditative breathing. My skills are peerless, none even approaching my mastery of the fleshers' art, but I have never allowed arrogance to blind me to possible danger. All too often the easiest of challenges prove to be the downfall of an assassin.
So it is that I pause, a breath away from her, and step to the side. There is no indication that she could possibly be aware of me, nothing but a roiling within me, my soul's shadow screaming caution. It has never steered me wrong in the past, and I see no reason to doubt it now.
"You know that I'm here," I announce.
"Of course," she replies, rising in one motion and turning to face me. What I assumed a robe is now revealed as naught but a cloak, the leathers beneath showing the woman to be dressed for combat rather than worship. A headscarf ties her hair back, ensuring none of it obscures her severe face and its grim expression.
"You don't seem that pleased to see me," I grin, continuing to pace a circle around her.
"Why should I, elf?" She begins to move in the opposite direction, possibly thinking that I hadn't noticed the obvious sword or concealed daggers at her hip. "You have been sent to kill me."
"Oh no, no," I correct her, waving a knife, "that's not it at all. I am not some hired assassin, paid to slay you. I am the orchestrator of such affairs, and you should be flattered that I have seen fit to execute you myself."
"Maybe I'll have time to be flattered after you're dead." She does not smile as she says this, and for a moment her manner pauses me.
"Confidence. I like that in a victim. It's something to strip away from them before I even get to the skin..."
"One cry from me would bring all the brothers and sisters running to my aid, you understand."
"Oh, I don't think you'll be doing that, my lady. I'd be defeated - possibly - but how many of your precious order would die in the process? I fear that this shall be single combat, shan't it, Kun Vian?"
I hadn't thought her expression could sour any more, but in that moment I am proven wrong. The instant clings to my mind even as she springs forward, her blade unsheathed, held two-handed above her. It is a crude attack, but not even my moment of indecision gives it a chance of striking me. Surprise was her advantage, but now it is gone; my left-hand knife flicks the weapon from her hands, sending it skidding to the floor.
She backflips away, and I resist dispatching her as she does so; there's something I must know, first. "How were you aware of my presence here?"
"It is the Kun way," she replies, landing neatly between two groupings of candles. "Be prepared for an enemy always."
I snarl at her petty philosophies and charge, but she leaps again, this time clear over my head.
"But mainly," she says, as I whirl to face her again, "the dragon you wear wafts its foul odour about you. I have my training alone to thank for not gagging on the stench."
My arm slashes down, a knife spearing the distance between us to strike through her shoulder and the wall behind, pinning her in place. Not a killing blow, but that is to follow as I seize upon her throat while she struggles, forcing her gaze to meet mine.
"There will be no peace with the elves," I growl, patience lost, "and your death should motivate this temple and your king to war against them."
"Them? You exclude yourself?"
"Interesting last words to choose, my beauty, but so be it..." I hover the black knife above her eye, a shadow against the night, then stab.
Divine light flares up before my blade can connect, shielding the abbess and buying her time. She uses it to kick out, disarming me of my knife. A punch to the face reminds her of her place in this, shattering bones into the bargain, and I tear my second weapon free of her shoulder, eliciting a scream of pain.
She ducks beneath my slash at her throat, but doesn't get far as she attempts to flee; her trailing cloak falls easily into my grasp and I lift her from her feet like a child.
"Your god's blessings can only protect you for so long, and in the greater scheme of things that's merely a blink," I inform her, pulling her close again.
"Neus gifts me with more than mere magical tricks, assassin," she gasps. "Strength, reflexes, determination..."
I'm already bored with her litany, but her head snaps up into my own to liven things up. Blood erupts from my nose at her skull's impact, and once more she is free.
Words are lost now, the battle degenerating into a simple cut and thrust, Vian avoiding my knifework with a grace I hadn't imagined possible in a human. Yet the bloodloss from her arm wound is slowing her more as the fight goes on. My free hand takes a hold of it as she sways one way, and I yank hard in the opposing. Delightful screams accompany the cracking of bone, and I prepare to finish the matter with a gutstrike.
She squirms in my grip, pulling her arm in a direction contrary to nature, the snapping this time free of cries of agony. "Pain?" she says. "Is that the greatest of your weapons?"
"No," I assure her. "This knife is."
I lunge, but she grabs my wrist, holding it tight and unmoving, strength I'd never imagined in her fingers. Twisting her wounded arm provokes no more response from her, and as I stare at her sullen face a sound blow smashes into my back.
It is the shock that floors me, rather than the strike itself. My vision flounders, but I can hear Kun Vian's words clearly enough. "Thank you, Brother Dominy."
The abbess stands over me, looking down. "Did I not tell you that my cry would bring others to my aid?"
I spring up, and she moves away, but she is not my target now. Dominy - a thin, sickly individual - doesn't have time to make a noise as his lungs are spitted on the black knife. "And I told you," I say, ripping my weapon free, "the consequences."
Vian rolls to one side, keeping her distance. It won't save her. "They think that I don't know of their nickname for me," she says.
Replies to her bleating would be pointless. I have wasted enough time already, and stalk after the wounded animal to end it.
"'The Lady of Mercy',"she says absently, and a smile ghosts her mouth. As she crouches, cradling her destroyed shoulder, so I leap.
"Not very appropriate, when I have none for you," she concludes. What I took for the ramblings of a dying woman prove to be nothing less than another distraction. Listening to her, I am not observing her true motions: hers is not the slump of the exhausted, but a foe stooping to retrieve something.
My discarded black knife. Held in the hand of the arm I'd assumed rendered useless, it still proves more than equal to the task of impaling me, its twin dropping from my fingers to ring on the flagstones. I fall and she rises, leaving my cursed weapon buried in my heart.
"Interesting," says a new voice, a woman speaking Tansiq-accented elven.
I sluggishly cast my head about, but as I catch sight of her the surroundings bleach, washing away like the tide. She alone retains her form, an imperious woman of harsh beauty, her pale features accentuated by the dark armour strapped to her. Considering me dispassionately, she holds a staff crowned with a familiar image, that of a black dragon.
"Who are you?" I sneer, finding enough strength returning to stand in the void. "What do you want with me?"
She tilts her head to one side. "Your life has just flashed before my eyes."
"And my death, it would seem. Since I can still talk though, you must answer my questions."
"Why? You are dead, and have no power over me. Only by my will do you have voice at all."
"But you must have summoned my spirit for a reason. I will tell you nothing if you don't speak first."
"That human," she says, her tone still infuriatingly calm, "the one that killed you. She now stands as one of the Free King's foremost generals, thanks to your bungled attempt on her life. In showing restraint, not blaming our nation for the actions of one, she has proven an example to those who bear grudges, building trust and forgiveness."
Those last words are practically spat from her mouth. All I need to know. "You are no friend of the alliance, then. One of Netheryn's rebels."
"No!" she screams, contorting her face in rage, and the environment around her twists and snarls. "Only the High Queen herself dwarfs that fool in stupidity! A union with human nations should be unthinkable, as should our people serving under an abomination like Ichærus!"
"Abomination. An interesting choice of words for a member of House Tansiq."
"Do not mistake me for some crazed cannibal, friend. That reputation has always stained our house, but in the glorious future that I envisage Tansiq shall stand at the forefront of elven politics, restored to its proper place."
"'Our house'? You know of me, then?"
"Of course. You are the black elf, Cear Adinerach, the Dark Slayer. Your crimes are legend, but you vanished, years ago. To hear of your return only at mention of your death was... intriguing."
"And yet I know you not at all."
For the first time in our conversation she smiles, and curtseys briefly. "My name is Sedara Tansiq, future High Queen of the elves."
"A grand ambition. One that will come to nothing without powerful allies."
"I'd heard that you were part of a group of such individuals..."
I laugh, her presumption astounding. "One such as you would not be admitted to the Medusan Lords! We already have an elf desirous of a crown, and Asta Syneri doesn't strike me as the sharing type."
"A Syneri on the throne of death? Their founder's crime - Asta's husband's crime, no less - is unforgivable! His plotting with the humans is a mirror of Tepheroth's current betrayal of her people..."
Her rage is palpable to my disembodied form, and even as my spirit churns in the face of it, I am convinced not only of her conviction, but also the depths of her power. "You could be of use to us!"
She calms, but regards me with one eyebrow raised. "Can these Medusan Lords be of use to me?"
"We share the same goals. An alliance between elves and humans benefits none of us, and with your aid we could sunder their unity forever. All I ask is that Kun Vian - this Lady of Mercy - dies a suitably agonising death."
Brightness returns to her face at the mere mention of torture. I have chosen well; she is a suitable replacement for myself. "Consider her dead already," Sedara says.
"Good. You should travel to Mourn, where I'm sure Master K'hallaek will meet with you. His suspicions can be quelled by mentioning 'eternity'."
Sedara does not thank me for this information, and raises her staff in preparation to dismiss my spirit. "I will call upon you again when I have need of you."
"Not going to be possible, I'm afraid." At her puzzled expression I continue, even as a pull at my being wrenches me to the core, forcing words to be rushed. "The Great Dragon knows Its own, and now I pay the price for my treatment of one of Its children. Immortality always was a gamble; the half of my soul that I can still call my own is going to be dragged away along with what I stole."
The darkness is somehow shadowed further by gathering clouds, and thunder presages the spectres that crowd at the edges of perception. As the stormwraiths close, reaching for me with charged talons, Sedara withdraws from me. A nod is all the emotion she shows at my plight, and then at her command a mantle of seething souls rushes up around her, bearing her away, back to the Accordlands.
With open eyes I turn to face the onrushing Storm. Each raindrop erodes my essence with its touch, and the dragon's soul within my heart screeches, scrabbling at its bonds as it recognises its progenitor. As I am enveloped I smile for the last time; while torment eternal may be my reward, the Accordlands will soon be enjoying a similar experience at Sedara's hands.
Laurence J Sinclair