She was crouching at a narrow ledge jutting out of the roof, both feet skillfully planted onto the cool stone. Moonlight was glinting off the waves of her waist-long inky black hair.
The night breeze was cool around her. Soreilla tensed as she watched the last drunken man leave the barkeep area into the boarding beds above.
Hamilton had ordered her to kill a man. It was a stranger who had arrived two days ago at the barkeep with a white-silver mare, which had invoked whispers among the half-drunken, grizzled old men that lived permanently at the barkeep. Coat shining as pale and liquid as the moonlight, she was as beautiful as the legendary horses the Fae rode. At first she thought nothing of it. Their old brains were half-rotted anyway, immersed with whiskey that had twisted them into telling long tales of myths and legends.
But one day when she'd been chatting with her old friend Liese the barmaid the stranger had turned deliberately, slowly, to look at her. And she had glimpsed the brightest, most unnatural golden eyes she'd ever seen. He had bared his teeth at her and she'd seen it - bright, sharp canines half as long as her littlest finger, underneath the cowl of his cloak. That was another thing - he was always wearing a black cloak, with the hood up. That was enough to stir her suspicions and curiosity.
And then the order, clean and simple: kill him. The order had been given on the same day, and she had grinned with some satisfaction. It was not strange that Hamilton would randomly order her to kill someone. What was strange was that there was nothing he wanted from him. Usually it would be a sum of money, a rare stone gem or something like that - something of value that the client wanted. She might have asked him if it wasn't the stern look from him. But she resolved to badger an answer out of him after bringing him the stranger's head on a silver platter.
She had spent two days silently spying on his moves. One day was usually enough for her to make a move that would end the target's life. But this man was strange, and different. This morning, he had entered the woods alone with his silver mare, but she had searched the entire woods to no avail until she had returned to the exact same spot where he'd entered the woods, and found him meditating silently in the middle of a circle of trees. Funny, it was almost as if he knew she was following him...
She shook the disturbing thought out of her head. It wasn't the time to question and wonder. It was a time to act.
Silently she leapt off the ledge onto the next roof, the long lean muscles along her calves absorbing the shock of the impact and allowing her to land as softly as a cat.
An owl hooted in the distance, a silent rider on the night breeze. The buildings of Lithold were closely pressed together, like the pages of a newly bound book. It was something that had gradually happened over time. The collection of various people and immigrants from other towns and cities had grew as Lithold's name grew. The buildings were close enough to each other for her to jump effortlessly to the next.
Walking was boring. She was already the town's fastest runner, beating even the stronger and older boys. She preferred taking to the roofs, where she can feel the starlight shining on her hair as she leapt and danced.
Deathly quiet, she leapt off the roof onto the ground below as she neared the barkeep. She could see the silver-white mare's mane shine like a beacon in the pale moonlight. Just as she passed the stables, there was a low nicker, and she stiffened in alarm. She couldn't risk the mare making any unusual noises. She couldn't risk being found out. If she were, Hamilton would have her whipped for it. The town's best and most feared assassin couldn't, and would never endure a public humiliation.
Drawing closer, she nickered softly. The answering whinny was as sweet as the caramel apples Hamilton sometimes made.
She dug her hand into her pockets and retrieved the two sugar cubes she had saved from her tea.
"There you go. They haven't been feeding you well, huh?"
A velvet nose brushed against her hand as the mare picked the cubes up and crushed them in her mouth. The liquid black eyes looked at her, swirling pools of inky darkness.
"Now... my good mare, if you'd just keep quiet for a little while..."
One of the mare's ears twitched, and an immediate sense of foreboding enveloped her. She wasn't alone.
Spine tingling and ears straining for any small sound, she quickly twirled around to face the night, hands automatically reaching for the two elaborate daggers strapped across her back with leather bands. She unsheathed them, the blades flashing silver, the rubies adorned on the hilt a blur of glistening red as she swiped them in front of her, preparing herself for a fight. The weapons were spotless; she had personally cleaned and polished them for hours and hours on end, not a speck of dust or dirt or blood present on the blades or handles. Hamilton had said it was a gift from her long-dead father, believed to have been passed from a great magician of long-old, and he said that the blades were infused with a spirit, one of the ancient old.
She didn't believe him, of course. Hamilton liked to tell stories that contradicted and overlapped with each other. When she'd tried to clarify with him about those, he'd wriggle his eyebrows at her and said he'd forgot. Eventually she'd learnt to give up.
Spirit-infused or not, she liked her daggers. Especially in moments like these. Only Hamilton, in the whole town, was able to sneak up on her. The others she could hear them from two yards away.
Soreilla stood, tense and alert, every nerve in her body strung tight with anticipation.
Still silence. After awhile she began to relax - and then a brown boot swung from nowhere towards her shins - she dodged, the fallen leaves on the ground scattering.
She looked at the attacker, and stared. It was the mysterious black-cloaked figure from the inn.
"What the fuck are you doing here?"
"Ohh, so you can speak," she purred, her voice deliberately sweet. Disarm the prey. It was one of the first tricks Hamilton had taught her. Soreilla angled her head, making sure that the faint moonlight caught her features.
"Who are you?"
The stranger did not answer, but stepped closer. She strained to see what was going on under the cowl of his cloak, but could see nothing. It didn't matter. She was going to kill him anyway, and his face would belong to death.
"I said, who the hell are you?"
He just stood staring at her. She could already feel herself bristling. No one ever ignored her like that. In one fluid motion, she swung her leg out, meaning to catch his leg and make him lose his balance. Faster than she could follow, he had already moved to one side. What the hell. Even Hamilton couldn't move like that.
Fuck. He was something different. And that could very well mean the end of her career.
She darted to him, slashing her daggers at his chest, aiming a high kick at his jaw - and he dodged them all.
Then she twisted herself and feigned to one side, dancing a semi-circle around him. Faster than she had ever made herself move, she cut a deep gash in his right arm.
There was a hiss.
She smiled grimly and smugly. Well, there was the proof that he wasn't invincible.
But then everything went helter skelter. The world tilted alarmingly fast and suddenly she was face-down in the dirt, a sharp pain digging into her back, her arms bound tightly behind her. She struggled violently, snarling loudly, vulgar words going through her mind.
"What the fuck are you! Let me go!"
The knee in her back dug deeper. Her breaths were coming out shallow now. She probably won't last long in this condition.
A few thudding, agonising moments.
And then the knee was gone as fast as it had come.
She rolled onto her back, staring at the moon and trying to get her breath back. She had to get back up. Had to. But something was already giving up in her. How could she beat someone that bested her in less than a second?
The black-hooded figure stooped over her. And then the hood was thrown back and she was suddenly staring into a scowling face with eyes of a fierce tiger.
"I am Esteban."