An Unusual Job – BotchedbyVandren©
Special Thanks to Ran57gr for coming up with Shautha's name.
Kallin stood in the middle of the rapidly emptying street watching the clouds expand across the sky. The low dark invaders held the promise of rain. Secretly, he hoped it would be a broken promise. In a couple hours, the Kae Solune would have to go to work. While he could work in the rain, it was more comfortable not having to. There were more chances to slip up in the rain. And, if he slipped, a good month's worth of preparation and several favours would have been spent for nothing. He really did not want to mess up this job.
It was probably the most important assignment of his life. Kallin had been chosen to punish a deserter. A minor ranked Internalist who decided to strike out on his own, repudiating the brotherhood. That could not be allowed. Even as a fairly recent Internalist initiate, the man had learned enough of the Shadows' secrets to be dangerous. Not that there were many who would believe that an Orcish refugee from Thrahir was truly a Kae Solune. Still, all it took was one. And a rogue who went unpunished would only lead others to believe they could get away with forsaking their vows.
Coming back to himself with a start, Kallin looked over the inn across the street again. His ex-brother had chosen well enough. It was on the high end of average, normal enough to be non-descript, good enough to have real locks and glass. Otherwise, The Tree, as the locals called it, was the kind of place any well-off caravaneer would spend his time in the capital. The Kae Solune let his vision slip ever so slightly out of focus for a moment. The place was not up-scale enough to have a staff mage or to pay for wards. Satisfied, Kallin refocused on the door. Nothing had changed in the last three days. Tonight would be his time to move in and complete the job.
Pleased with his plan, the thief-executioner finished his drink, rose, and left for the place he'd rented for the night.
A few hours later, Kallin made the rounds at a few taverns in the city. He bought drinks for some people, barely touched his own, and moved on to the next. At the seventh, he bought five rounds for everyone in the house. Once the place became mildly chaotic, he murmured a simple spell and slipped out of the pub. Come morning, they'd all remember him, but would all recall that he left at a different time. That, he felt, should cover his tracks sufficiently.
Outside, he stripped down to his black working leathers, fitted with sheathes for knives, stars, and other useful tools both mundane and mystical. Before taking off, Kallin checked the pair of long knives, barely too short to be swords, strapped to his back. He'd left his favourite sword behind due to the confines of this job. Its length would only befoul it in an inn room. Satisfied, he paused a moment, touched his internal spring of magical energy, wove some of it into the pattern he wanted, and practically walked up the wall opposite the tavern.
The executioner-thief considered his plan as he crossed the city via the rooftops. Since his target was part of the Kae Solune's Internalist faction, Kallin knew he stood little chance in a hand-to-hand fight. And he would have to avoid using his repertoire of spells directly against the man, no telling how resistant he'd become. No, his best bet was to sneak in without alerting the target, then a knife across the throat or to the heart. No poison, Internalists could sometimes resist that. And it would have to be an instant death strike, many Internalists could heal themselves inhumanly swiftly. A simple spell would silence the window and open it from afar. Then a second to glide silently into the room. Finally, both blades, one to the throat, the other up between the ribs to get the lung and heart. It sounded simple, but Kallin assumed there would be complications. His target was a fellow Shadow, afterall.
This line of thought brought him within sight of the Tree. He let his vision shift slightly once more, allowing his body to rest. In that other state, Kallin still saw no sign of the telltale energy indicating magical wards. Not that there were many Internalists who would trust magic, though a novice might. He slipped back to normal sight and looked around the street and alley below. There was no sign of anyone who might see him. Which was how things should be.
Another rooftop, a leap across a narrow alley, and a quick spell to let him cling to the wall brought Kallin to his target's window. He checked for magical alarms one last time as he looked for mundane locks and measures. Just a simple latch, nothing difficult. A short, very thin bladed knife appeared in the executioner's hand. He carefully worked it between the frame and the casement, whispered a single word to silence the latch, and eased the metal hook over. The window swung silently open as Kallin vaulted over the sill. His eyes, opened wide as a cat's, were already searching the dark room as he sailed in. The moment his shoulders crossed into the room, however, a flare of light bright as a dozen blue suns blinded the Kae Solune.
He fell to the floor, instinctively rolling into a ball to land, jarring his shoulder hard in the process. Between the sharp flash of pain and the sudden blindness, Kallin momentarily forgot where he was. Only luck kept him alive long enough to regain his senses . . . once he did, he mouthed a silent oath to Vosh.
Somehow the rogue had gotten himself a mage who could not only se up an intricate ward but could also conceal it extremely well. As the thought occurred to the Shadow, he was already rolling to his feet. His target, a wiry short, stringy haired Orc, was already moving in with a short heavy blade in an overhand swing. Kallin barely managed to free one of his long guard-less daggers, meeting the other with a loud clang that traveled up his arm. That limb aching from the shock, he turned the parry into a lunging riposte, driving the point of his blade at his opponent. The motion's momentum also pulled Kallin back to his feet.
The Orc batted away the clumsy lunge easily and dropped back a step. Both Shadows silently eyed each other in the darkness. They circled, blade points roughly eye level, bodies slightly turned to the side. As feeling slowly returned to his right arm, with a pins and needles sensation, Kallin considered going for one of his flat throwing knives as a distraction or one of his longer daggers to parry with. The Orc grinned, revealing his tusk-like incisors and made a small gesture that filled the room with a soft candlelight.
He gave a harsh laugh as Kallin's expression momentarily betrayed his bewilderment.
"Who did you anger, brother," he asked, in a surprisingly cultured voice, "They told you I was a novice Internalist?"
Kallin refused to reply. He was intent on finding a hole in he rogue's guard, though his shoulders tightened in anger when the Orc called him brother.
"They didn't tell you who I am, did they? They wouldn't," the rogue continued, "You should've guessed by now. This is a suicide job . . . brother."
While they circled in the small space, Kallin decided on one of the longer daggers. He kept his other blade weaving and dipping, its point always directed toward the Orc's throat. His opponent did the same, or close enough. Neither length of steel touched the other, both Shadows feinted and twisted, feeling each other out. Meanwhile, Kallin kept an eye on the rogue, on how his heavier weapon moved and the stances he took. They mirrored Kallin's own almost perfectly. Even without the Orc's spell use, that told his the man was an Externalist. And he'd only heard of one Orc ever being admitted to their ranks.
Then his dagger swept down in an arc to intercept the Orc's upswing, which became a lunging thrust that Kallin barely deflected with his off-hand dagger. He skipped back as the gleaming edge slid across his outer thigh, drawing blood. It could have been more serious. He'd dropped his guard for a heartbeat and fallen for the feint. The move gave him more evidence.
Kallin heard the Orc chuckle as they both recovered. He realized he must have given something away and quickly schooled his face to a calm mask, betraying nothing more. The cultured voice said, "Yes, you understand, brother, I am Shautha." Third highest of the Externalist faction and left hand of the Solune himself, Kallin added the titles silently. There were rumors that Shautha aspired to be one of the extremely rare few to bridge the gap between the sects. In the whole history of the Kae Solune, there had been a score who succeeded, if that many. If it was true, Kallin knew, he was in serious trouble.
While Kallin was thinking, blades had been clashing and clanging. Both men were covered in numerous superficial cuts and bruises. But, Kallin's arms were going numb and the cut on this thigh was bleeding freely. Between the wounds and his earlier spellcasting, he knew he had no chance left unless he ended things quickly. An inadvertent slip a few heartbeats later, which caused him a deep gash in the shoulder, confirmed it. His parrying dagger slipped from nerveless fingers as Kallin murmured a word of power.
An inky black darkness settled over the room and the executioner turned victim dove through the window. Or, rather, he tried to dive. What it actually looked like was a controlled fall mixed with a plummeting eagle. He burned the last of his magical energy to make his contact with the street softer, both long daggers left in the room above in his flight.
To the sound of Shautha's mocking laughter and the cries of woken townspeople for the watch, Kallin forced himself to his feet. If not for the blood, he could easily be mistaken for a drunkard, shambling and weaving home from the tavern. The Kae Solune wandered aimlessly, his heavy eyelids already practically closed, oblivious to everything around him. Even the eventual cries of fear and concern failed to reach his ears. Nor did the solid warmth of a small body beneath his arm achieve a reaction. The only thing Kallin noticed was when his body decided it had done enough and the lights faded.