A chilling breeze skipped over the narrow streets of Vaskivier. The city was quiet at this hour and only an occasional light switched off when citizens went to bed. If you'd look down from the sky, you could call it peaceful. Normal, even.
But then, when you take a closer look you'll find some slight peculiarities on those narrow streets. A stain of blood, or a shadow shifting in the darkness.
And if you would look really closely, you'd able to find a woman perched on a rooftop near the center of town.
She was almost one with the darkness, but had to lean into the light as she let her eyes take in the streets surrounding her.
She was crouching low, and looked out under the rim of her faded night blue hood that hid her dark red hair. She didn't want to be recognized.
Auriel closed her eyes and took in the familiar scent of her birth-city. She heavily smelled the fresh fish from the harbor, the garbage discarded in the numerous alleyways and the stench of alcohol from the various taverns on each street. Most people would find it disgusting and would cringe when they enter the city, but she welcomed the scent with joy.
She had missed her home.
But with her joy also came the grief she had been trying so desperately to drown over the past 10 years. It was like her memories flew right through the empty city streets and shot an arrow through her stomach.
The overwhelming picture of her family flew around in front of her face, rending her unable to focus on her job. Her little sister, Lymfea, she loved to sit on the rooftops with Auriel every night, just watching as the people slowly went to their homes. Her mother and Father never suspected a thing when they slipped away at night. Both girls used to take great satisfaction of that fact.
Guilt overwhelmed her and she pushed back her emotions.
10 years since i left. 10 years since their death.
It was my fault.
She closed her eyes and sighed, breathing in the scent of fish again. When Auriel was 17, she used to gamble in the local casinos. She'd never lost a game, until that one night.
She lost, and couldn't afford the amount of gold the group of thugs demanded. She ran away when they tried to get her.
She hid in alleys for two days, and when she went home... They were dead. A bloodbath.
Her mother's body was sprawled over the kitchen counter, her head missing. Her father laid beside her on the floor, a hole through his stomach. He'd bled to death.
And Lymfea... what was left of her was splattered on the brick street behind their house. She'd jumped and committed suicide. Probably rather doing it herself, than suffering by the hands of those thugs.
Auriel's nose tingled and she felt a wet line on her cheek.
She frowned and scolded herself.
I will not be sentimental. I came here for a reason, and one reason only. To do my job. Now get yourself together and get a move on.
Her face molded into her usual impassive features as she allowed herself one last glance around the smelly alleyway she was about to enter. There was no light, and the alley was engulfed in darkness. She'd lower herself on the bricks and walk around the corner, following the street to arrive at her destination; The lazy sphinx bar.
With that plan in mind, she settled her hands on the edge of the roof and leaped off, landing on the balls of her feet. She checked her dagger, Flinch-blood, at her waist before rounding the corner and entering a dimly lit street.
The grim feeling of sorrow surged through her veins again as she walked the same steps as when she was only a little girl.
Auriel remembered running around this very street, trying to pick-pocket a local thug that was boasting about being the best warrior in the land.
A smirk flaunted her lips under her hood. He hadn't even noticed her taking his pouch of precious gold.
The bar was only a few meters away from her when she hesitated. Can I really handle this? She bit her lip and leaned with her hip against the cold bricks of the building next to her.
In front of the bar stood a muscular bouncer. She didn't recognize him, which wasn't a good sign. She liked to know her opponent's weaknesses.
Her eyes darted around his body, detecting a sword the length of her leg. He didn't seem to be armed any further, but she could only guess that he had at least 3 more blades hidden underneath that thick leather armor of his.
Nothing she couldn't handle.
As if sensing her intense stare, he raised his head and looked at her. She could imagine what he thought when seeing her. Some shady figure, covered from top to toe in midnight blue thin leather armor that flaunted her curves pretty well. The hood that covered her soft features in darkness. A hidden smile danced in her eyes as she took in his confusion like candy. She also noticed some amusement in his brown eyes.
Crossing her arms, she pushed her small but muscular frame off the wall and made her way over to him, her pace slow and steady.
''This aint no place for some wannabe thief, missy" He laughed, his voice full of amusement. She smelled a faint scent of alcohol to his words.
She remained silent and raised her chin slightly, giving him a peek at her deep blue eyes. The corner of her mouth tucked upwards as the Man's face took on an expression of true horror. And she knew he had recognized her.
She was well known around the land, for she had never failed one of her missions nor had she ever betrayed a client.
Most people recognized her of the thin white scar that contoured the side of her left cheekbone. She'd gotten it when a target decided to fight back and caught her off guard.
The man quickly stepped aside, stumbling over his own feet in attempt to get away from her. She only breathed out a low laugh and lowered her head once again. "do not worry, I am not here to harvest a soul for my master" she told him without giving him another glance as she opened the ragged door and entered the tavern.
Auriel always liked dramatics. It's what kept people talking about her. She laced her words with malice and chose words to make people be afraid of her. She was just playing around with them, it was like a hobby. It could get pretty amusing, talking about some sacrifice she had made to demons or about selling her soul for immortality. People actually believed her.
She suppressed a chuckle as people around her were raising eyebrows. Not many woman came down this section of the city, that she knew. There were too many bad souls around. But she was no regular woman.
There were three tables placed inconveniently in the middle of the bar. Men were everywhere, on chairs to the sides, at the tables, standing around. Some were picking fights and had to be held apart by their comrades.
The people close to her had stopped staring and were going back to gulping down whatever liquor they had gotten their filthy hands on.
She scrunched her nose at the sickening smell of alcohol and sweat.
This place was nothing like she remembered, and it hadn't changed for the good. After getting through the crowd of people, she glanced across the bar, knowing who would be standing there.
There was a man, about her age, with the lightest shade of brown eyes and hair black as oblivion itself. His hands held a forgotten dirty rag and glass, which he had probably been cleaning. But his eyes were on her, and his mouth was slightly open.
Of course he recognizes me. Why couldn't i just get in, speak to my client, and get out. But no, he just has to make this worse.
Auriel groaned inwardly, but knew she couldn't flee from the steady gaze he held her captive with. He laid aside the glass and was about to make his way over to her when she held up her hand, stopping him. She shook her head and approached him instead, sitting down on a crooked seat in front of the counter.
Here we go.
"I'm honored, the great messenger of death has decided to bless me with her presence" he said, but sarcasm dripped from his words. His face grew into a scowl.
''How long has it been? 10 years? What were you thinking? You didn't even tell me you were gone!"he snapped angrily, slapping his hands down on the wooden surface of the bar.
Heads were turning in curiosity towards them, and she hushed Rannis down.
"You know what I was thinking. I couldn't stay here. Not after..." she turned her head to the side and closed her eyes to ignore the rush of guilt that engulfed her chest. her voice was hushed, making it so only her old friend could understand her words.
Rannis shook his head and leaned against the counter, "So you decide to go off on some killing spree? Not once you send me a letter. I thought you were dead for years! Until some guy comes in here, telling me about this assassin that kicked his brother's ass. Guess who he was talkin about?"
She scoffed, even though her face was well hidden underneath the hood, "It's my job" she said calmly.
Her brain was numb. She was desperately trying to battle the feelings she had long forgotten. The longing she felt towards Rannis was downright painful. She only wanted to reach out and touch his cheek.
Get yourself together. You're here for one reason only.
Rannis seemed to be having the same struggle as her, but he wasn't nearly as strong as she. He leaned forward and laid his fingertips on her chin, raising her head to look at her in the dim light.
She wasn't ready for this. The temptation to crush her lips against him and finally live again was overwhelming. He ran his thumb over her cheek and she imagined herself jumping over the counter and trapping him against the wall and-
Whoa there, that's enough.
She snapped out of it and sat back in her seat, leaving Rannis's hand in mid-air.
"I missed you so much, Auriel" His voice held all the feelings that were wound around them. When she glanced up at his eyes, it was like looking right into his heart. She felt his hurt and the love. She'd been his only family, and then she was gone. He wanted to hate her, but he just couldn't. Even after 10 years she still had all the power in her hands.
Auriel only shook her head, "I have a job here. That's the only reason I came. I'll be leaving soon." She forced the words out of her mouth and fought to keep them nonchalant, and succeeded.
Rannis's heart broke visibly. He had hoped, and she had shattered him once again. he'd been picking up pieces of himself for the last few years, and only one sentence had splashed his blood all over the city once again. He was lost for words, so he just nodded and offered her a silent "be safe" with his eyes before he picked up his rag again.
Auriel wanted to apologize. She wanted to scream at herself and give into him. She wanted to stay right there, in that stinking bar as long as he was there with her. I can't.
She took a moment to bandage her shattered and confused heart before shutting herself off again, like she had done a thousand times already when she was on the verge of giving up.
"goodbye" She whispered before getting up and looking around the tavern.
She didn't know exactly who her client was, but spotted him right away. The man was sitting alone near the corner of the room. He stuck out like a sour thumb with his neatly combed hair and clean clothes. Men were giving him funny glances before laughing out loud with their friends.
Auriel was sure it had to be him. And so she sat down in the empty chair opposite him and crossed her legs. He was obviously not paying attention, because his head was turned to the side and he was looking around in fascination at all the people.
She frowned in annoyance and snapped her fingers, slapping the man to her attention.
Before he could speak she leaned forward, her elbow leaning on the round table,
"Here is my policy. You listen carefully because I do not repeat myself. I do not kill the innocent. I carry out vendetta. One person, a group, poor, rich i don't care. Children are fine, too. It can be anyone as long as they have wronged you in a way. Payment will be in gold and the amount depends on who my target will be. The harder the more it'll cost you."
Auriel leaned back in her seat and propped her feet on the table. "What do you need?" She asked, flashing him a stunning, and very fake, smile from underneath her hood.
The man gulped, probably thinking his words over carefully. "I do not request a murder of you, my lady. I have a different offer i'd like to discuss" He said hesitantly.
Auriel's fake smile dropped and she rolled her eyes. ''i'm not interested" She removed her feet from the table and got up, making her way out of the tavern.
Who does he think he is? i don't want anything different. My policy was clear.
Her posture relaxed slightly when she opened the door and welcomed the fresh, if slightly stained with fish, air outside.
The bouncer was nowhere to be seen. She shrugged. Coward.
But before she could round the corner, her almost-client burst through the tavern's door and came running towards her.
The clatter of his boots against the street bricks unnerved her. Never could she be this loud, even if she tried. A light switched on in one of the nearby houses and she cursed under her breath, shooting a glare towards the man, which stopped him dead in his tracks as the realization of what he had done dawned upon him.
She looked around and quickly slipped into a dark alleyway, waiting for the man.
He'd woken up the whole damn street. might as well hear him out if I have to wait for those people to bugger off anyway. She sighed heavily and propped herself up against one of the more clean walls in the alley. It was pretty dark, and she could barely make out the wall opposite of her, even though it was barely 2 meters away.
She heard the man step into the alley hesitantly, and could imagine him narrowing his eyes in attempt to spot her in the alley.
When that failed, Auriel decided that she had enough of this. "You've got exactly one minute to pique my attention before i deem you useless and get rid of you." She said casually, lacing her words once again with malice.
She wouldn't kill this man, but she enjoyed the fear that radiated off him.
"I-my. My daughter. S-She N-N-N-"
Auriel face-palmed and rubbed her forehead, "You're wasting my time. Hurry up and tell me what you need, fool" She snapped, her annoyance obvious.
"right, please forgive me. My daughter... S-She wants to travel. But you know how the world is out there. I promised her that she could have my blessing only if she was prepared to go. I- i want you to train her.'' He said, his fear numbing down a notch, "only to defend herself, of course" he added quickly.
Auriel couldn't help it, she laughed. "You want me to teach your girl how to fight? I'm sure you realize how much is wrong with that request" She cocked her head towards him, only being able to spot a faint outline of his figure.
"please, just consider this. Gold isn't a problem. I can give you anything. She is only 18, she'll die out there" His plea bothered her, but then again... the gold was tempting.
"I'll consider your offer" she said, turning her back to him and taking a hold of the brick wall she had been leaning against, "Oh, and sending your daughter to the market tomorrow might be a good idea" She added before pulling herself up and fading into the night.