Blood red hair
Silently get rid of one girl and a woman, Ethana Bloodrain and Ikana Heartbeat. Two females that’s easily spotted by their blood red hair. Kill them and take proof of death with you, without anyone noticing. That was the order from the Gathering. Sounded easy enough. The order had been sent out and executed perfectly by Theodore and his band several times before. Never had they failed. Failing meant years of humiliation and living as one of the servants in the Blood city. Though, never had they before tried to kill another assassin. At least not without knowing that the target was an assassin. There are no records of assassins in this village.
The girl sat over one of his men like a predator protecting its prey and looked around the rooftops. No… not like a predator. The body language seemed uncertain. Her head twitched from side to side and probably unaware she patted the dead body’s chest.
Was this her first time killing someone? Surely not. Her extremely silent moves and forms must come from years of professional training. The only disturbing sounds from the fight had come from the first dead man falling to the roof and the gurgling sound from the second kill. Whilst dodging his third man’s sword swing she’d managed to lower the dying body towards the ground without making any sound. It took no more than seven seconds from the moment the first knife struck to when her curved long dagger pierced the heart of the third man. He’d never seen such beautiful wind dance before. She’d moved like part of the wind, with it not against it. He wished he could see her eyes.
The blood from the bodies started to cover the roof, fortunately the roof door seemed to be a bit elevated. There would be no blood dripping into the house.
Theodore shook his head slowly.
He could not report this, no one would believe him and he would be punished harshly for failing and lying. The tolerance towards lying was even smaller that for failing.
Theodore grinded his teeth. He needed to overcome this stupid awe and confusion about this girl and think of a plan to kill her before she made a ruckus and warned her warders. Letting anyone find out there were White masks in the village was out of the question.
As Elthana started to gingerly push the dead bodies together Theodore darted around three houses to reach her house and started to climb up on almost invisible ledges on the wall behind her. Black as a shadow he moved, the close fitted fabric of a mixture between leather and grass fibers kept the night’s cold away, made no sound when moving and gave good camouflage during the night. Slowly he eased one of his swords out of the scabbard, the dull black metal gave off no shine in the moonlight.
He imitated the move she’d made on his assassins and threw a small stone high over the roof and waited for the small sound it made on the ground on the other side before he sneaked up.
With a stinging cut on his cheek a small grey knife flew by his head. Not fooled by the stone, Elthana had instead assumed that the source of the sound came from the opposite direction and thrown a knife before actually seeing an enemy. Fool. He was a fool for thinking she would fall for her own trick.
As he rolled onto the roof his right hand threw three thin throwing knives at her that scattered in the air. She ducked low with one leg spread out and her hands clasping two curved long knives. Her form was exquisite, her long leg stretching out for miles.
Coming up in a crouch he took out his other thin, short sword. For a fraction of a second they faced each other. Both down close to the roof, both with a weapon in each hand. Then they threw themselves forward, the steel on steel screaming in the silent wind that pushed at their bodies.
The two dark clothed assassins danced around in the music of clashing swords. Elthana’s light grey eyes stared coldly and followed his every move. Behind the white mask, his face was set determinedly. He would not fail this mission.
One of his swords manage to cut her over the waist, but apparently it was mainly fabric he cut loose because the air filled with brown smooth cloth. Elthana took advantage of the situation and flung up the released fabric in his face like dark water and suddenly he was airborne, his feet kicked away from underneath him. Theodore blindly swung his sword forward as he fell and must’ve at least almost hit her because nothing sharp pierced his body. Catching himself hard on the roof with one elbow and a knee he grabbed hold of the dark cape pushed himself backward, using his own body weight as leverage he pulled at the fabric as hard as he could. First he could feel pulling her body towards him, he could see her bending forward from the force. He readied his sword for another swing. Then abruptly she cut the cape off and they both stumbled back. The small amount of head cape still attached to her fell down around her neck and the wind tugged her long red hair loose, flowing in the wind like a river of blood.
Theodore gaped and could do nothing but stare. Her face, the fierce stance, the flowing hair in the wind. She looked exactly like the statue of the thousand year old blood queen standing in the hall of the history’s most dangerous assassins. Why did they look so much alike?
She looked at him with disgust.
“What, you changed your mind now that you see I am a woman? You disgust me” she snorted.
“That’s not it” Theodore started to say as he rose to standing up. “You…” Theodore and Elthana froze as they heard voices from down in the house.
“Elthana, is that you?” a male voice shouted worriedly.
Theodore pointed at the startled girl, or woman as she actually looked his age.
“You, you get down there right now. Keep this quiet and I might let your warders live out their lives” Theodore whispered between clasped teeth and was ready to push her down if necessary. First she looked like she was going to object, but after a glance at the dead bodies she pointed one of her blades towards his neck and narrowed her eyes to thin lines. Without saying a word the red haired woman made it perfectly clear that she didn’t like his threats. To his relief she jumped smoothly down the door in the roof and closed it shut after her.
Theodore bent down by the wooden planks, ready to kill if anyone popped their head out.
“I heard noises” the man said.
“I couldn’t sleep so I practised my forms on the roof” Elthana said and loudly put down her weapons on something made out of wood.
“But you never make this much sound” the man said doubtfully.
“I tried something new. I thought I’d have some dummy sword to practise against.”
“Oh, how’d it go?”
“Flawless” she said and drew out on the ‘s’. Theodore wanted to cut her throat for being so complacent. She knew he would listen in.
After the male warder finally left Theodore made sure to bar up the small door with his most insignificant small dagger. He didn’t like being out in the open but he needed to make sure no one saw the bodies and he needed to wait for Elthana to go to sleep.
Never had he expected this outcome when he came to the village two days ago. His scouts had located the target, followed her and found out where she lived. Theodore had kept it low key as usual. He was the leader of his small band of three assassins, or had been, but he liked them to do the research on the target. He himself kept an eye on his assassins and learned how to read the village if something went wrong. It never went wrong, but Theodore always made sure to have a plan if it did. The last two days had given him time to find the good hiding places, where to easily dispose of a body and where you could sneak in the shadows.
Theodore placed a hand on the chest of one of his fallen assassins. He thought that he should feel bad for them, wouldn’t a normal person feel bad with the death of another human? Though, the white masked assassins wasn’t normal humans. Trained under unthinkable conditions, tortured to keep secrets, brainwashed with the good of The Blood City. Besides, he barely knew them, they’d only worked together for one year.
For hours Theodore sat silently on the roof. The thin slice of moon gliding over the canopy of starspotted darkness. He glanced through his mask at the dead bodies for the hundredth time and then at the barricaded door.
What to do next?
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.
“I doubt she’ll do anything too hasty. I’ll talk to my men” Theodore said icily and walked away with a buzzing head. He had no more friends, their stupid code word for assassins when they were in a village. The Gathering had already sent more assassins. This mission must be very important for them to send observers and another group of assassins. Not good at all.
The sun was slowly setting behind the village walls. Long shadows cast over the market place. Theodore needed to figure out what to do, quickly.
Behind the mask
Theodore put a hand to his throat as Elthana ran away on the rooftops. It had been a gamble to put away his needle before she took away her daggers. If her mind hadn’t been so much on her blood mother she might have sliced his throat before and left him there to be found by the birds next day.
He looked at his fingers, no blood, good she hadn’t cut through the skin. The figure of Elthana’s body disappeared down on the lower houses. Theodore shivered when he thought of how angry he’d felt when he thought a white mask had killed the red haired woman. He was scared to not know if he was angry that someone had killed her before him, or that someone had actually killed her. What scared him even more was how relieved he’d felt when he understood that it was Elthana behind that very well done copy of the white mask. He had wanted to take of the mask, not sure of the reason why. Maybe to make sure she still resembled the long dead Blood Queen. The only statue in the hall of death that had colored hair. Blood red. Elthana’s hair was a little brighter than the statues.
Why was he thinking about Elthana’s hair? He should change clothes and go after her. If the other white masks were dead he would finally kill her and take a piece of her hair back as proof to The Gathering of her death.
He glanced once at the lonely bag Elthana had dropped on the roof before he jumped down the roof to get ready.