Fire Ch. 09byEnithermon©
I tried to be quick about this one to make up for the last chapter. Next chapter is in the works, but I have a lot of fun RL work to get to first. I'll try not to take too long.
I love to hear suggestions so please feel free.
Otherwise, I hope you enjoy.
The White Bay shone blindingly under a high moon. For miles it stretched, a glorious waste of ice and snow. Within its embrace, three dark islands, dumping grounds for the cities unwanted and forgotten: The mad, the criminal, and the dead. Around the base of the second a dark figure slid unnoticed over slick black stones, shining with layers of ice and mottled with patches of crystalline snow. In the distance the flickering but ever present lights of the city burned as a perpetual counterpoint to the silent despondency of the three 'sisters' which sat off and alone like hunched crones of fate, busy with their work of spinning and measuring and cutting.
The stones of the keep loomed high and the dark stone of the north-west face, untouched by moonlight, was as black as the stones below. Along this wall a hand full of men patrolled lethargically, pausing now and again to sip from flasks or rub life back into chilled limbs. One paused, momentarily startled as a movement, suddenly caught in the corner of his eye, caused him to turn his head sharply. He blinked and saw enough to think it the passing fancy of tired eyes, or at best the flutter of a hunting owl led too far from the shore by skittish prey.
Jairus cast the bright clear sky another look of supreme annoyance as he crushed himself against the wall to let yet another guard pass. The prison had one entrance, and three consecutive gates to guard it. The walls themselves were well manned and impossibly high, a feat of engineering in themselves, and all of it was located on an isolated island, its nearest neighbors a graveyard and an asylum. Near impossible to escape or infiltrate. That is unless one could scale impossible walls at a speed faster than the eye could catch. And even if one could accomplish this there were no windows or unlocked doors save the wardens window, another twenty feet of uninterrupted vertical assent up a broad turret. Jairus picked his way around to the moonless side of this very tower and began his quick assent.
As he neared the narrow slotted window overhead he heard the low and conveniently sonorous sounds of the warden. He made a quick check before slipping inside the dark room. He could already catch the sickly sweet smell of too much liquor from across the room. He made a quick inventory and found what he needed at a glance. The keys hung next to the door, a sword, with its red ornamental tassels, stood propped at the foot of the bed, and the almost empty bottle of spirits sat still uncorked on the desk. He took all of it, thinking the liquor might be an amusing touch.
The client had given him explicit and careful directions as well as guard rotations so it took very little time to painlessly reach the desired location. Fortunately the information he'd been given was good. Unfortunately, however, the man in the cell wasn't quite asleep and stirred at the sound of the key turning softly in his cell door. Jairus wasted no time. He was on top of the mark well before he could cry out, pulling him up out of the cot before rapidly spinning and shoving him against the wall, one hand over his mouth the other already unsheathing the wardens sword.
The man, Jairus knew, was a political prisoner, but the clients own personal interests lay more in the 'family way,' in all senses of the word. Specifically, the man had impregnated the client's sister, a member of his household staff, and promptly fired her, denying any and all responsibility. Of course such a thing wasn't uncommon, and by no means the reason for his imprisonment. The fact that the girl's brother was a guard was only an interesting coincidence. However, as a political prisoner he wasn't subject to the same indignities as other prisoners and thus the brother of the young lady was forced to seek professional aid since he was prohibited from gaining access to the man. Jairus wondered if the man knew that it had been his imprisonment which had been keeping him alive this long. Poor bastard.
"Julianna's brother sends his regards." He whispered into the man's left ear just before the blade slid upwards into his right side. He twisted the blade quickly, paused to listen for the soft gurgle of blood rapidly filling lungs, and withdrew the sword. He dropped the body, his ears attuned to his slowing heart, and carefully wiped the sword on the man's clothes before snapping off one of the tassels and shoving it into the man's clenched hand. He then took the liquor and tipped a minuscule amount onto the floor next to the body and a little more near the cell door. The space between the moment he'd first slid the key into the door to open it and the moment he turned it back to lock it once more had been significantly shorter than the time he'd given himself.
He replaced everything as he'd found it, though not quite perfectly so, and, with one eye on the warden, began shuffling through his desk. It was not the warden he was framing after all. He smiled as he found a number of papers with the name of the second mark. There wasn't a great deal to work with but he did find one less than glowing review and an incident report which had been recently dated. He decided they would do. He tossed the two letters on the fire, and waited long enough to be sure they were burned past recognition, hoping momentarily that it wasn't over kill. Some people didn't do subtlety very well. He glanced at the Warden who turned and snorted once or twice then settled back into a rhythmic snore. No, this one would have no use for subtlety.
Jairus sighed. Overall it had been remarkably easy. Too easy perhaps, as he had expected a bit more of a challenge. If this was too be his last job, he was hoping it would be one worthy of the title. He'd honestly found stealing those paintings far more difficult. No doubt the councilman was paying his people significantly more. He'd been attempting to do it without engaging the guards and had had to improvise. These guards, though plentiful enough, were little more than warm bodies.
Still, he thought as he eased himself out the window, whether the set up would work remained to be seen. He had decided that to frame the man directly would be too obvious, but to implicate him in the framing of an immediate superior was perhaps convoluted enough to hold water, not in the least because the warden's departure would mean an almost certain promotion.
The hardest part had been getting to and from the island unnoticed. Even moving as quickly as he did, navigating the plane of ice which covered the lake was somewhat nerve wracking. As he made his way back, it was hard to ignore the echoing groans beneath his feet as thick ice slowly buckled under its own weight, or the sharp snap as loose pieces broke and shifted around one another in the distance. It probably wouldn't kill him, but slipping and getting caught under shifting ice wasn't his idea of a pleasant way to spend an evening.
He'd paused to feed before he'd begun this little endeavor. Adding that time to the rest, the job and the odious work of keeping himself out of the ice bath, his total time amounted to less than three hours. He couldn't help but allow himself a moment of satisfaction over that. He'd like to see even another of his own kind match that. He hadn't been lying to Thea about the turning just making one 'more' of what they already were. He had already been well trained in combat and a skilled hunter, so those abilities had been magnified. Even his sire, who had been several hundred years his senior, could not have matched him in many of his abilities, then or now. Of course, she had her own.
He kept one eye on the distant city he approached and wondered idly what such a change might do to Thea. He smirked, god help him. He could imagine she'd be strong, and graceful, and utterly fearless. It would probably make her that much more stubborn as well. His smirk turned into a wry grin. He was strong, it was true, but he wasn't sure anything was strong enough to deal with that. Then again, he'd always claimed to like a challenge, had he not?
Gods help him indeed.
Thea couldn't say what it was that woke her, but something stirred in her and forced her to open her eyes. Call it fate, chance, or just blind stupid luck.
There were voices in the hall. She couldn't hear the words, but they were deep and male. She didn't know how long she'd been asleep for. Jairus was gone but the high, diamond bright moon shining through the window slates told her it wasn't all that late. Instinct told her to get up and get dressed. Reason told her to be quick about it.
Quietly she slipped out of bed and fetched her discarded clothes from wherever she'd haphazardly tossed them earlier and tiptoed to the door while struggling into her shirt. She turned her ear to the cool wood to listen even as she started hopping into her pants and boots. The voices drew closer and she caught a knock a little ways down the hall. She wondered if she should risk a peek. Someone told them, very loudly, to go do rather nasty things to their mother. They knocked again and she took the chance, cracking the door by just a fraction. There were three men, all very large, very tall, with dark hair and, she didn't doubt, dark eyes. She pulled the door shut immediately and slid the bolt just as quickly home.
She licked her lips and backed away from the door her heart suddenly pounding in her ears. This was not good. This was a terrible mistake. This was too soon, she wasn't ready...god, Jairus was right. But then she'd already known that, hadn't she? What was wrong with her, why was she even here? Had she gone insane?
That must be it. She must have cracked the moment they tied her up at that post and she hadn't recovered since. She was a calm person. A reasonable person. Or at least she used to be, before she was sucked into this strange dark dream. Now she felt like she'd been doused with a bucket of full ice water, and had abruptly found herself wide awake and staring down the sword blade of reality.
She didn't want to die, but she was here now, and she was alone, and she was running out of time.
"Think girl, think" she whispered under her breath.
She bit her lip and looked around the room. The sparse furniture wouldn't do much to hold the door if they decided to break it in, but she grabbed the chair and shoved it under the handle anyway. It might buy her a few seconds.
She ran to the window and tried to push up the latch. It was rusted and stiff and resisted her efforts. She heard another knock even closer and took a long deep breath, trying desperately to still her nerves and rapidly fisted and opened her hands to try to keep them from shaking.
She tried again, using more force until she finally slammed the meat of her palm up against the damned thing as hard as she could. It popped free, but she had to bite back a hiss of pain as she managed to cut herself on the degraded metal hinge at the same time.
A loud knock behind her made her gasp and jump, and her hands started to tremble again. She leaned out the window and looked down. They were on the second story, but, she decided, if she hung out the window first it shouldn't be more than an eight foot drop, if that. It still didn't sound like a lot of fun to her, but what were her options?
"That's right, you don't have any." she whispered.
The knock came again, this time louder and she stifled another sound of alarm.
"Hello?" The voice was the same she'd heard earlier. She swallowed hard at the sound.
"I'm sure I saw it open just a moment ago." Came a second.
She cursed herself silently and took another deep breathe, slinging one leg up onto the ledge and wriggling it up and through the window, hefting herself after it. She made the mistake of looking down again and groaned involuntarily. The pounding grew louder, both on the door and in her chest. It felt like her heart might just explode it was thrumming so fast against her ribs. She grabbed the ledge and gingerly turned herself and slid down until she was dangling over the alleyway below, the bottoms of her boots scraping uselessly against the rough stone of the wall, instinctively seeking the footing that wasn't there.
She took one more long breath, swore, and let go.
The ground came at her fast, but she managed to twist herself before it caught her unawares and she threw her momentum off into a roll. As she landed she could practically feel the bruises forming along her entire left side and back as she tumbled into the unforgiving brick of the next building. She groaned and cast her eyes upward. There were no faces yet at the window, she still had time. Wincing and biting back several self pitying whimpers she struggled to her feet and made her way down into the darkness of the alley. It twisted off in various directions and she automatically chose the one which felt the most like 'away' to her. All she could do was keep going, trying to follow a simple re-traceable pattern of left-right, as she lost herself in the labyrinth of alleys and canals.
She grimaced as she ran, trying to stay on her toes to minimize the echoing sound of her boot heels on the stone streets, keeping to the dark and empty lanes which wound between and behind the tall, tightly packed buildings and skirted the dark stagnant waters of the many narrow canals.
She paused finally in what felt like a particularly well hidden alleyway to catch her breath. She leaned against a pile of emptied crates for support and gave herself a quick examination. She was definitely bruised and scratched, but she'd been lucky and suffered nothing worse than that. She almost laughed. It seemed being tossed around by Jairus had taught her something after all. Who knew falling would be such an important skill.
As it was her face couldn't quite manage the smile. She was throbbing all over. Her hand hurt like hell and was still bleeding quite a bit. She looked around for something to use to put pressure on it and realized with another soft sound of frustration that in her haste she had forget both her knife and her cloak. Without them she felt utterly naked. She groaned and leaned back against the crates again, letting herself slide to the ground. She looked back down the alley she'd come from. It was silent and empty, but she was still alone and unarmed, and she'd been warned this was no place to be caught in such a state.
If she survived, Jairus was going to kill her.
She watched the alley intensely, debating whether to keep moving, and probably get hopelessly lost in the process, or to return the way she'd come to risk seeing if they'd moved on. Ultimately her indecision kept her where she was.
It didn't take her long to regret her decision, or lack thereof. Voices sounded in an alley behind her and she crawled around the pile, tucking herself in next to it as best she could. She listened closely and was relieved to hear they didn't sound like the voices from the inn. As they drew near her relief dimmed significantly and she huddled closer to the pile of refuse, hoping they wouldn't choose to turn into her alley. She was boxed in on one side by the high walls and on the other by the black waters of a canal. If they did turn down toward her, she'd have only one route of escape...back the way she came, and back toward the Huroth.
These new voices weren't Huroth she decided, but they weren't friendly sounding either. They sounded rough and slightly drunk, and as they neared she could hear much of what they were saying, and none of it was making her feel any better. She closed her eyes as their shadows were thrown into sight and prayed silently to no one in particular.
Jairus paused as he approached the inn where he had left Thea, pressing himself up into the shadow of a watch tower as he gazed down on a familiar figure lurking in the street below. The youth was cloaked but his hood was drawn back and he was watching the mouth of the via, his narrowed eyes darting restlessly along the connecting street.
He didn't like how close the agent was to his hiding spot. That old territorial wolf reared its head and he ground his teeth in irritation, resisting the urge to let out a low growl. Jairus was sure that the boy was with Marcus and that he'd been sent to sniff them out. He winced at how close he'd gotten, annoyed with his own confidence.
'Perhaps overconfidence might be the appropriate term,' he thought bitterly. He was about to push off and clear the alley toward the inn to check on Thea when another figure appeared in the alley and made him pause once more. It was a Huroth, he'd know that swaggering bulk anywhere.
He crouched low overhead, his eyes and ears intent on the scene below.
"How did it go? Was she there?" the young man asked in a hushed voice.
"There was someone there who made a run for it, but we never saw who it was. Leapt straight out the window, didn't even see where they went. Could have been anyone."
The assassin shook his head. "They were there, and he was gone, saw him off myself. The 'friend' had to be there." Jairus tensed at that, his skin prickling uncomfortably.
The Huroth snorted his reply. "Who's to say who it is...no one saw a face. And I can't imagine a woman jumping out a window like that and just disappearing. Besides, I don't put much stock in the notions and feelin's of some slippery imperial type."
"Your boss seems eager enough to believe us."
"Othwyn's an idiot." The man sneered. "They both are. Wasting everyone's time if you ask me. If you ask me they should just get it over with and fight it out the old fashion way. All this cloak and dagger makes me queasy. No honor in it. No glory."
"I doubt he would like to hear you saying so. Besides, I imagine if he thought he was up to that he wouldn't be spending his good money on us 'slippery imperials,' would he." His could almost hear the sneer in the boy's voice, and it almost tempted Jairus to smile.
Another snort. "Already has heard it, told him so myself. You wet city types only know how to lick boots. Too weak to give and take solid advice when you have it. You sure it was the Nine Tails?"
What was left of his patience deserted him with that confirmation and Jairus was moving over the roof tops with careless speed before another word could be spoken. The Nine Tails was where she was. Where she may no longer be.
He was there in mere seconds, above the alley facing the window Thea had purportedly jumped from, his heart pounding in his throat. The shutter was hanging open and there were several men in the narrow road below milling about aimlessly, looking for answers they wouldn't find. As it was there was something he could see that they couldn't. Or rather, something he could smell. It was the faintest of scents, just a bare hint drifting like a favourite perfume over the mire of unpleasantness that made up the essence of the city. He'd know the scent anywhere.
It was blood. Her blood.
He could smell it as it wafted up to him, curling around him like fingers of smoke, teasing him. There wasn't a lot, but it was there. He took a deep breath to calm his rising panic, reminding himself that she'd gotten away. Now he just had to find her first.
He slid along the roof tops, following and occasionally losing the scent. It didn't take him long to catch the pattern of her movements and before long he wasn't bothering to wait until he caught the scent, only marking it when it came to him, telling him he was closing in on his target. The wolf tracking a wounded doe, his ears turned to the heavy tread of the hunters.