“Did you hear about Lord Everett?”
“Dead right outside his door I heard. An arrow through the heart if his servants are to be believed.”
“Who would do such a thing?”
Felicia passively ate a berry out of her pastry cup as she listened to the gossip. Lord Everett’s servants were known by many to exaggerate when passing on news, but in this case they were not. Felicia had seen the body for herself after all. So who indeed would do such a thing?
“I heard Lord Everett had a Gemlock petal tucked into his pocket. What could Lady Scorn have against Lord Everett?”
Felicia had to hide a smile as the higher-born women gossiped amongst themselves. She didn’t know who had come up with her title – probably an old bird rattling a story about a woman scorned and Gemlock flowers – but it had stuck. She ruled the city of Dirgewood through shock, awe, and fear. The only reason Lady Scorn had been identified as female was because Felicia had teased that much for fun. It had been a minor bother having the townsfolk refer to their assassin as a male for far too long.
Not that Felicia herself looked the part. A forest green silk dress fell to her feet, hiding brown pointed heels. Brown thread held the whole thing together and made for dancing vines across the sloping neckline. The skirt fell to elegant ruffles from her waist down. Not the attire one would expect from an assassin. Truthfully, Felicia hated wearing the damned things, but she had appearances to keep up, after all.
“Lady Felicia, isn’t it just terrible what happened to Lord Everett.”
Felicia, already having prepared her masquerade, schooled a perfectly polished look of shock on her face.
“Simply awful, Lady Denika. I can’t imagine who would do such a thing!”
Honestly, Felicia hadn’t had a clue why the client had wanted Everett dead either. From the times she had met him, Everett had been an amicable man, and was admired by several other highborn houses. Politically, Felicia supposed, it would have benefitted most anyone. However as the man who had hired her had not been part of any houses, she didn’t understand the motive.
The one rule Felicia had given herself was that questions were off limits. The less she asked, the less of a chance for something to come back and haunt her. So far, her policy had worked. The talk of each new victim died down after the month. Not one of her jobs had come back to destroy her.
She still worried, however, if someone would connect the dots. ‘The Lady Felicia Gwaren grows Gemlock in her garden! You don’t think she…?’ As it was, Felicia hid in plain sight, instead preferring to allow her husband to soak up the attention while she stayed in the shadows. As Dominic was away on business, however, it fell to Felicia to keep up house appearances. Everett had been her first contract that she had had time to do in three weeks.
But then, she reflected, him being away was also a blessing. Dominic had been pushing extensively lately to begin a family – something that Felicia held no interest in. All she wanted was to be able to choose the path she was taking in life. Not be the accessory to the lord she married. Though she had at first agreed to be trained as a killer to survive being a witness to a contract, Felicia had grown to relish being a killer. She was the one in charge of whom she killed. She was the one in command of life and death. She was the one people talked about instead of the latest parties and frivolous things.
Oh how she loved being an assassin. Her mentor had been Coal; once the most notorious killer in the city, now the head of his own “business” of contract killers. None knew where he called home, but they knew to contact him to leave a message in the old Drunken Harpy Tavern. Coal took great pains to training those under him, but never did he expect monetary payback. Not unless they worked under him, at least. For those that didn’t, he had a simple rule: give a word of who or where I am, and I will hunt you down.
Thus far, no one had chanced it. Last she had seen Coal was when he had invited her for brunch a week before killing Everett.
“Lady Felicia? Are you well?”
Lady Denika was looking concerned that she had not continued their conversation. But what else was there to say? Felicia wondered with annoyance. Everett was dead and no doubt there would be a great many dealings to take the spot of power left behind. Perhaps the house lords would convene again to place new security measures. Maybe they’re actually make it a challenge for Felicia next time one of them had a price put on their heads.
“I am feeling marginally under the weather I’m afraid, Lady Denika. Will you please excuse me?”
Weeks ago, Coal had passed along a message to her for a job offering with him. She had pushed it to the back of her mind repeatedly. Felicia had not found it necessary to dabble with him full time. Though grateful for the skills she now possessed, she wanted to be able to adhere to contracts on her own time. She had appearances to keep up, after all. But the more Dominic pushed for things he wanted from her, the more she wanted out. And Coal… had essentially provided that out.
Walking the streets of Dirgewood, Felicia took the time to look around. From the ground, it was every bit the crown jewel of the country of Venfallen. Elaborate shops lined the streets showcasing every manner of goods, from dresses to books to weapons. Horse-drawn carriages carried all manner of folks, whether highborn or not. Some held visiting dignitaries from other countries, especially from Venfallen’s northern neighbor, Zosfold.
In some cases you couldn’t tell the common folk from their highborn counterparts, especially the women. Seamstresses were gifted artists in Dirgewood, managing to create works of art at mostly affordable prices. The result left the members of her sex competing for the most elaborate and gorgeous clothes they could envision. Fashions swept in and out like the ever-changing seasons. Yet surprisingly, Felicia reflected, it was the men who were more often to destroy each other with violence. From the contracts she had had for women, most had seemed like jealous wives or mistresses.
No questions, Felicia. What has been done is not to be dwelt upon. Think of the future.
When spring arrived, the snow beneath her feet would melt, and no more would she be able to see her misted breaths. By that time she could be working with Coal, having the freedom to truly embrace her role as an assassin…
The Gwaren estate was marked with marble pillars holding up an equally elegant archway. The door was made from some exotic wood Felicia had soon forgotten, and the servant who answered the door was nameless to her. Winding to her room, Felicia took comfort in the possessions she had.
For a wedding present, her husband had had a custom mirror made for her. Encrusted with rubies and sapphires, he had said it reminded him of the ‘many contradictions he had fallen in love with.’ Despite her dislike of him trying to control her, she still felt her heart grow as she thought of his adoring gaze. Coal’s offer was in her desk, and suddenly it seemed to take up the entire room. Could she give up the life she had with Dominic just for the freedom of life and death?
She took the parchment from its place, her fingers running over the letters.
My dearest Felicia,
With each new story I hear from the street talk, the more I wish I had someone with your skill under my employ. I normally do not bother my past pupils with such trifles, but you would do me an honor of working by my side. Dirgewood can only offer so much, but I can offer you the world if you so wish.
Meet me where the first drop fell by the twelfth moon of the year and we can discuss exactly what a woman of your skillset could earn under my name. Even if you do not show, I will not begrudge your choice. I will only request your silence, as always.
He had been discreet about the contents, as any good assassin would. The eleventh moon was due to rise in just under five days. She still had an entire moon’s revolution… but something tugged her to go. I can offer you the world if you so wish.
“Very well, Coal,” she whispered to herself, “let’s see what you can offer me.”
Hours later, wrapped in a cloak of gray winter and hiding her face beneath a mask of equally gray moonstone, Felicia stepped fearlessly into the alleyway where she had first seen Coal. Newly married at the time and merely two decades old, she had reacted as a frightened woman would. Or she would have, if Coal hadn’t covered her mouth to prevent her from screaming. There he had given her the deal. Learn his trade and keep her mouth shut, or she could join the dead man on the ground. Of course Felicia had chosen to learn. At the time she had found the offer of education a strange one, but it didn’t grace her thoughts much.
Bootsteps sounded on the ground, and in a flash her hand was on one of the poisoned daggers hidden in the folds of her cloak.
“Always jumpy, Felicia.”
The boyish tone did not belong to Coal, but she knew who it did belong to. Varren Addis – Coal’s favorite pupil and the heir of his “business.” Felicia bristled as he stepped into the light of the moon. As usual he had been meticulous with his looks, and though Felicia was married, she could appreciate Varren’s physique. Dark brown – almost black – hair was in a wavy cut on his head. His green eyes glinted alertly beneath it, and with a knowing smirk, he almost seemed like any local rogue. No one knew how much more he was, however.
“Varren,” she greeted neutrally. Despite his good looks, Felicia was not a fan of his ‘always better than you’ attitude. Damn him for being gifted. Damn him for earning his spot as Coal’s favorite. Jealously was a cruel mistress. “Where’s Coal? He’s the one who was supposed to meet me here.”
“Yes, he was,” Varren said seriously. “Up until a month ago, he would have been here himself. However he’s dead. Someone broke into his house and killed him. They left a Gemlock petal in his jacket.”
The implications suddenly made the world swell beneath her. Using the wall to steady herself, she firmly gripped the knife.
“And what? You think I did it?”
“No, Felicia, I don’t. However someone knows who you are, and that someone was intent on getting the entire guild after you.”
Still shell-shocked over the news of Coal’s death and the impersonation of her calling card, Felicia was slow to grasp what he was getting at.
“What do you mean, ‘the entire guild is after you?’”
Varren stepped forward and grabbed her wrist, a grim scowl on his face that was far scarier than anything he could have said.
“I’m saying everyone in the guild is out to kill you.”