Cracked Surface

Author's Note: My entry for the Heir of Fire contest.

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1. Prologue

Thwack!

The arrow hit the small paper target, nailed neatly to the center of the barn wall, burying itself in the exact center of the page, still quivering from the force of the impact. A second later, the quivering stopped as a small throwing knife sliced through the center of the arrow.

                A few yards away, Arie grinned before crossing the dying field to retrieve her knife. Sure it had been a waste of an arrow, but it’s not like they were expensive.

Not to somebody with the skill in her chosen profession anyway.

Not to an assassin.

Arie glanced at the door to the inn – and nearly swore. A Crowd. Wonderful. As if she needed any attention. Not in this town. Not this close to the Capitol.  Not this close to them.

Retrieving her knife, she purposely fumbled it, dropping it to the ground with a mute thud. Let them think it was luck; it was much safer. Not that her little ‘show’ probably looked like much now anyways, with the paper torn and no reasonable way to track how accurate she’d been.

Not that she was probably much to look like either, she had to admit, catching her reflection in the side of the knife – despite the growth of her skills, and it seemed her physical appearance had deteriorated. Arie’s skin was the least damaged, with the biggest flaw being the new scars that had not yet healed properly. Slight lines had formed by her eyes, which remained a dark green, but she looked tired – far too tired. Her formerly shining Red hair was also now a pale, almost white blonde – although how that had happened, be it stress or… other, dangerous things, Arie did not want to remember.  Her clothing was well kept if nothing else – a plain grey shirt, as well as boots and pants more common among those who made a living in the woods.  She caught another reflection in her knife as she bent to pick it up, noticing the faint reflection of another, this time that of a small street kid. Arie had to hide a snicker; the idea of the kids going unnoticed might be true, but it was still stereotypical as all get out. Arie stood up, pretending she hadn’t seen the child, or the message he was carrying.

“Uh…Excuse me? Miss? ” She glanced up, barely taking in the child's appearance - a mistake she'd regret later, but Arie was busy trying to slow her breathing and appear nonchalant.

But after seeing the stylized seal on the message, the seal of the King of Valland, it was extremely difficult. 

 

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