Theodore didn’t need to look twice to see that this specific woman wasn’t one of the crowd. The way she put every foot in front of the other, she moved like a stalking desert cat that was trying not to be spotted. She had glanced at them, though trying to hide it. He was sure she only saw people from the gathering, not him specifically but with her… who knew what she saw.
All leaders among the white masks had another identity among the gathering. The white masks never showed their faces to anyone, so another identity was welcomed when he needed to do the unpleasant task of talking to the gathering.
Elthana Bloodrain had moved like the wind itself last night, and continued to do so during the day. He wished she’d let her red hair out from her head scarf to flow in the wind as she stalked passed by them. He cursed, why would he care about her hair? The mission was killing her and her mother, no matter her haircolor, or more likely because of her and her mother’s hair color.
Theodore couldn’t exactly jump around on the rooftops to look for Elthana during daylight hours, instead he roamed the streets. There weren’t many streets, and still Elthana had lost him an hour ago. The villagers here were as in any other village, living day by day, making their lives move forward. Outwardly they seemed all but happy, but sadness tinged behind everyone’s eyes. In all underground pubs late at night you could hear murmurs of distrust and dislike towards The Gathering. Had it been anyone but him they quiet murmurs would had been quited for good, though he saw no reason to kill anyone for only disliking someone or something. But he wasn’t stupid enough to not know more than dislike weighed behind the words they spoke.
He shook is head, it wasn’t like him to let his thoughts wander like this. Then he did something he hadn’t done since he was five years old, he actually walked straight into another person coming out from a door. He grabbed a pair of thin arms that instantly flexed and muscles tensed underneath the shirts fabric as he stabilized them both.
“I apologize, my mind’s in the wind today” he said and noticed as he got some distance that the person was a female, the garments wrapped around her body showing only her face. Fierce brown eyes stared back at him, the light in them evident in the sunlight.
“I’m fine, you can let go of me now” Elthana said with a sharp voice. Theodore jerked his hands back like he’d gotten a shock. He’d forgotten about his hands when her gaze fell on him. A small strand of red hair tinged the outline of her face, he wanted to touch it. He did not want any such thing! He bowed apologetically with the right arm crossed over his chest.
She shouldn’t be able to recognize him in this outfit as a wandering merchant, but he had spoken. If they started to fight here he would probably loose, he had no weapons but two small knives and even though no weapons showed on Elthana he knew she must be covered with them under all that fabric.
They spoke no more words and he watched her walk away, more like an attacking desert cat than one silently stalking. She was angry, he would be too if someone crashed into him. Or she knew who he was, then why hadn’t she killed him. A mother and a child covered with the same fabric as Elthana walked passed him in the narrow street, he hadn’t even heard them. They walked more like around him and ringed the bell outside door Elthana had stepped out from.
“It’s Meyandra Fourleaves and Mayfair Nightlight for our morning appointment” the woman said. Theodore started walking slowly forward to not seem like a total fool for standing still doing nothing.
“Come in” he heard a muffled voice from inside. Meyandra opened the door and even though he didn’t see the woman’s face he saw the hair. Lighter than Elthanas, the striking red was tinged with orange, but unmistakingly Elthana’s blood mother Ikana Heartbeat. For a week he and his assassins had looked for Ikana without a trace. Elthana had been spotted the first night, training with swords and daggers openly on the rooftop of her house. The only reason they hadn’t attacked that first night was because they needed to know where Ikana were as well. The alarm would surely go in the village if one of them disappeared, then they might never find her mother.
Waiting a week to kill a target was a long time. The Gathering would expect them to be back soon, otherwise they’d send more assassins. That wouldn’t be good at all, he couldn’t afford a failed assassination if he wanted to raise to the top of The Gathering. He needed that power. And now he knew where one of his targets lived, Ikana was the easier target and he would take care of that this night.
The rest of the day Theodore spent trying to keep track of Elthana without being noticed, it was harder now after their close encounter and she knew his face. Not who he was, but his face and if she caught him following her he couldn’t pass by as a merchant lost in a foreign village. Theodore told himself this was the reason why it was hard to keep track of her, but for truth she was one of the best stealth rogue he’d ever seen. Better than most assassins actually. From his observations it seemed like Elthana was preparing to leave the village, that wasn’t a surprise, a normal reaction to being the victim of an assassination attempt. The question was if he had until night to complete his mission or if they’d leave before the night came.
Theodore had resumed his position behind one of the markets stands beside a middle aged woman selling their fruit to customers. The woman was from The Gathering, sent to keep track of Elthana and Ikana’s whereabouts and to report when they went missing. They had been sent without Theodore knowing but he’d spotted them the first day. He had introduced himself as Theodore Shadowstone from the gathering’s second circle of observers. Two women announced themselves as observers from the fourth circle which meant he was placed over them to his relief.
“That’ll be four fifty five” Haula Curlyhair said with a smile, some warders had no imagination when it came to naming their children to keep. Haula was in the forties and as her name implies she had very curly hair, dark brown as her eyes and her light brown skin matching the color of her loose pants and shirt. She was a little plump and looked like the friendliest being on earth, like every mother and grandmother. Theodore couldn’t help waiting for her to tell him to eat more. He himself wasn’t plump at all, some would say skinny, but it was all lean muscle, almost all assassin’s looked like this. It was the best body to do what they did in their profession. Moving silently and killing smoothly.
“I’ve seen Elthana walking through the market several times this day, unusual.” A female voice said behind them. Theodore had sensed Opaka Darkmoon for a while now, saying nothing and letting her be with her thoughts. Opaka was the other woman The Gathering had sent, clearly the analyst of the two. Her dark brown hair was pulled around in a bun on her head, hair strands sloppily sticking out to “fit in among the common folks” she had said. All part of the disguise. Her dark brown skin glittered in the sunlight.
“She seems distressed, did you do something Theodore?” Opaka asked.
“No” he lied, they didn’t need to know about the night’s failure. They hadn’t met the assassins he’d brought, they didn’t know there was only him left.
“I saw some of your friends today Theodore, they were following Elthana pretty openly. You should tell them to be more careful” Haula said like a mother would lecture her child when it got caught going out without enough sun protection.
“What?” Theodore snapped his head towards the curly haired woman.
“Maybe Elthana has noticed them, and that’s why she’s so hasty today. You think she’s running?” Haula raised an eyebrow.