Esteban stared at her, golden eyes a fierce sheen of yellow illumination in the darkness. Now that his hood was off she could see his hair, the colour of autumn leaves, glinting under the pale glow of the moon. His voice was gruff and rough, his cheeks were slightly hollow, slight purple bruises were under his eyes. He looked like a prince of beggars and rebels.
"Esteban?" Soreilla echoed haltingly. Not only was the name foreign, unfamiliar, everything about him was something she hadn't seen before. Those golden eyes, they couldn't be real, could they? And his tall height was uncustomary for the folk in Lithold.
She caught sight of her bruised hands, where he'd grabbed her and held her down like a criminal. A hot ball of anger floated up within her, and she glared at him. She still had to kill him. There was no other way. It was between cutting his heart out and facing Hamilton empty handed, and her past experiences had taught her that Hamilton was no soft-hearted teacher that avoided harsh punishments.
Gritting her teeth, she steeled herself. If she died at the hands of this stranger, then so be it. But before she gave her soul willingly to Garth she'd make sure that he will be more than half dead. Lunging forward she almost got her dagger halfway to his chest but the look on his face arrested her movements. It was a look of utter compassion and a deep-seated profound pain, and it caught her by surprise. The strange beauty of his face and the haunted expression was a lure to her feminine sensitivities. I am your friend, I can help you, the face seemed to say. He was strange, he was foreign; surely he has something to offer? He probably came from a far foreign land, with precious knowledge that she could only dream of accessing. He looked learnt. Maybe she could talk to Hamilton, get him to keep Esteban as a mentor instead of a death warrant? Maybe she could -
Esteban's hand shot out, swiping both her daggers from her lax grip. Then he grinned broadly, and this was enough for her to growl and consider ripping his throat out using her teeth. The manipulative bastard!
"Never trust anyone." His deep voice said.
That was the first lesson Hamilton had given her, too. Inwardly, she cursed both of them.
"What are you trying to do? Are you toying with me?"
"I want to know what you are doing," he said, taking a careful step towards her. "In the middle of the night."
"Who are you? Where do you come from? What the hell are you?"
"What's your name?"
They were close enough that they could shake hands. Their eyes met, and both refused to look away. It remained that way for a long time, each sizing the other up. Then Esteban lost patience.
His lips curled and his face twisted into a snarl. "Answer me now, or I will make you regret it."
There was a shadow of something flickering in his eyes. Soreilla had no doubt that he could lay waste to her if he wished to.
"I am Soreilla." She straightened her back, standing her full height and looking him in his eyes. "I am the apprentice of Hamilton, former head of the Assassin Institute. You would answer to him."
Esteban barked a short laugh. "I would do no such thing. You bring me to him."
Her eyes narrowed. It was already evident that she could not kill him, however much she wanted to. She would cut that throat and feel his hot blood gush into her hands, if she could.
For now though, she had to do as she ordered. If she wants to avoid further bruising, both to her body and to her ego.
With a tilt of her head and a haughty glance behind her back, she sauntered off towards her house. Hamilton's house. It was a little cottage set in the corner of the town, inconspicuous, just the way Hamilton liked it. In fact, Hamilton loved everything that was ubiquitous. He scorned and scoffed at Soreilla's large collection of flouncy dresses, he avoided the loud ceremonies that the town often threw, and he wore nothing but a battered shirt and pants covered with dirt. Soreilla knew better than to look down on his appearance, though. Hamilton was the founder of the Assassin's Institute, and was a figure to be feared and looked up to. Soreilla had often heard fearful tales about the old Institute when eavesdropping at the Inn. And Hamilton... why, he was an old topic for gossip and intrigue, a figure shrouded in more legends and mystery than anyone Soreilla knew.
Hamilton had connections, clients that hired him to kill. Targets that were outside of town Hamilton would attend to, but if it was in Lifthold Soreilla was the one who took care of them. Easy targets they were, too. They were men who relied more on their minds than their bodies, and even then it was easy pickings for her to outwit them, and end their lives in a simple flick of her wrist. Despite the rich political strife however, Soreilla had no interest in it. She would much rather go dance in a ball, or listen to the old men's tales about the big cities.
As she brought Esteban near to their residence, she could tell something was amiss. The front door was slightly askew, the bottom of the door torn and blackened with a thick substance. The smell of it hit her nose - the tang of the iron in blood. By the door there was a severed arm, covered with blood that looked black in the night. Determined not to be distracted by her heart pounding in her chest and the acidic bile of fear rising up her throat, she strode towards the door and kicked it open.
Inside, nothing was recognisable.
The collection of blown glass and pottery she had laid out by the window was shattered into tiny shards, the curtains torn and charred in places... all their furniture had been reduced to ashes.
"Magic," Esteban growled.
What of Hamilton? Hamilton! She rushed from room to room, frantically searching for the man. There was a smell of ashes and fire in his bedroom. On his bed laid a blackened corpse, still slightly smoking.
There was a blue gem on the middle finger of his right hand.
She could scarcely believe it. Hamilton, the one who could never be beaten. It's impossible. So that was how he ended, being roasted alive on his own bed.
Sinking down on the floor she reached for the blue gem, touching the blackened hand with no registration of disgust in her mind. He was always a force to be reckoned with, and to her, he was more than a mentor figure in her life. He was like a father.
His right hand was clutching something. Dully, she pried open his fingers and saw a smooth white stone clutched in his hand. There was something etched on it. Holding it up to the moonlight, she squinted at the word: Fae.
It made no sense. What Fae? Why was some old strange legend so important that Hamilton would use the last moments of his life to carve it on to some rock?
Esteban crouched down on the ground to look her in the eye. His tone was gruff. "Look lass, I know you just lost your father, but whoever who did this is powerful. We have to get out of here."
She stared at him blankly, his words an empty echo in her head. Why was he being so serious? His hair, catching the moonlight, had turned a fiery blonde, and was as silken as his horse's mane. She wanted to laugh.
And then she saw it. Sharp, pointed ears protruding out of his ruffled hair.
Everything whirred into place.
She lunged for his throat.