By RYAN S. KINSGROVE
Erzaren Eilhana stepped out from the shadows of a broom closet and faced the approaching man.
“Tell me,” Erzaren said. “What’s it like to die?”
He didn’t give the man time to answer. No, his silver dagger was already in hand, its blade cutting through the man’s neck like butter. The man began to gurgle a reply, but stopped when Erzaren drove the silver blade through his heart.
Instead of letting the man fall, Erzaren grabbed his lapels and gently lowered him. The white lace shirt was ruined with crimson stains, but there was time to save the justacorps, an elaborately embroidered thigh length jacket, and the waistcoat. Erzaren stripped the man of both, trying not to wrinkle them. He took his cloak off. He would need to hurry.
The dead man was Jezzrin Lanford, and though he died by Erzaren’s hand he wasn’t the assassins primary target. Jezzrin was an unwitting pawn in Emperor Kalmar Chavelled III’s game. A piece of evidence to cast doubt on the Eakranait Dynasty in a bid to start a war.
Erzaren was out of his comfort zone on this one. Under normal circumstances, Erzaren would avoid the business of lords as if it were the plague. His normal fair was merchants, slavers, crime cartels, and the occasional woman scorned. The money wasn’t as good as the business between lords, and when it came to the women scorned, payment rarely included money. Sticking to small time was an intelligent decision. If he were caught he might spend a little time in the dungeons, and the likelihood of the gallows was nil. Still, the rings for this job were far too good to pass up.
Erzaren used his cloak to wrap up Jezzrin’s body, then deposited the man inside the broom closet. The cloak was embroidered with the Eakranait Dynasty’s emblem. The cloak quickly took to soaking up as much blood as it could, like a cloth vampire. Erzaren looked down at the man and shook his head. The plot was very well thought out, planned by the emperor himself. He wanted to expand his territory and needed a reason to stick his nose in the business of other nations.
He closed the door, almost. As part of his specific instructions he’d been told to leave the door slightly ajar. The issue resolved, he bent down and grabbed the waistcoat and the justacorps. A long bench, with a blood red cushion, set against a wall opposite a large window. Erzaren laid the garments on the bench and saw to his other needs. He pulled a wizard’s bottomless bag out of one boot and unrolled it. He removed his sword belt and slipped it down into the bag. The bags dimensions didn’t change. Out of the bag he pulled three dusty black spheres, and two black makeup cases. He hung the spheres along his belt and set the makeup cases on the bench beside the coat and vest. With deft hands he tied the bag on the opposite hip. A little finagling later and he was able to get it, so the hilt of his sword poked out of the bag.
Another small movement and he adjusted the straps on his gauntlet, checking how hard it would be to reach the trio of throwing daggers tucked into it. He wiped his silver dagger clean on the bench’s cushion, then replaced it in his boot sheath.
Erzaren checked his reflection in the window, his features were angular with hard planes along his jaw and chin. His eyes were a feral ice blue with flecks of silver in them. The most defining trait was the long angry red scar that ran from nostril to ear on the left side of his face.
The double doors at the end of the hall cracked open, and through the corner of his eye Erzaren could see a servant girl stepping out into the hallway. Normally, this would bring a cry of alarm drawing the attention of all the guards in the castle to Erzaren’s location. Not this time though. No, this servant girl, dressed from head to toe in a black burqa, was a part of Erzaren’s backup plan.
He picked up the makeup cases, popped the foundation open, and began to spread it over the length of his scar. For good measure, he covered the rest of his face as well. Then he applied the powder, and now—minus the elven ears—he looked closely enough to Jezzrin that he should pass for the manservant long enough to reach the ambassador.
As the last part of his preparations he picked up the waistcoat and buttoned it on and pulled the justacorps to rest on his shoulders. There was a belt to buckle around it. It would be difficult to reach the tools of his trade, but… he had specific instructions. Looking back at his reflection he tried to cover his ears, but gave up quickly. Time was wasting. He ran his hands over his midsection and tugged at the justacorps, trying to make sure everything looked smooth and proper.
Air caught in his throat. What was he doing here? The thought had been poised on the edge of his mind since before he left home this morning.
One thousand platinum rings, that was the price on the ambassador’s head. It was more money than some kingdoms saw in an entire year. It meant one thing, and one thing only: he was walking into a trap.
Why then, was he standing in this hallway?
His feet started moving—he followed, allowing the need to take over.
There was one reason, and one reason only that saw him walking towards the double doors at the far end.
The emperor had given him specific instructions but not quite as specific as they should have been.
After all, what better piece of evidence would there be than the assassin caught and killed in the attack? After he’d killed the ambassador of course. The emperor wouldn’t want him left alive, couldn’t have him spilling the dirty little secret about who it was that hired him.
Still his legs moved. Propelling him forward. On towards almost certain death. The keyword being almost. Erzaren was the best, and the best never go anywhere without a backup plan.
He stopped moving as he came up beside the girl. Her silver eyes stared through the tiny slit in the face of the body covering garment. “Why are you going through with this?” L’erissa asked.
“How many?” Erzaren asked, ignoring her question.
“Six hundred all told,” L’erissa said. “The very cream of the elite crop. If they’re not related to the crown in some way, then they’re party crashers. There are at least a hundred servants, and thirty guards, armed to the teeth.”
“How many of us?”
“Ten,” L’erissa said. “Counting yourself.”
“Hardly,” L’erissa said in a condescending tone. “We’re not equipped to handle an operation like this.”
Erzaren couldn’t help but smile at the comment. His white teeth glinted in the light and he almost began to laugh. “That’s what makes this exciting.”
“Why?” L’erissa asked again. “You’re not dumb enough to walk in there for the rings alone. You’ve no love for king and country. What sort of rational explanation can you give for this?”
Erzaren’s smile faded. He stood up a little straighter, rolling his shoulders to get them in just the right position. He could feel it then. The calm before the storm that overcame him whenever he was about to do a job. “Go back inside. Wait for the signal.”
“You’re a damn fool, Erzaren Eilhana,” L’erissa said. “I don’t know why I give you the time of day.” She shook her head and swept back through the double doors. Erzaren let them swing closed, cutting him off from everything. He needed a minute. The feeling built, and built. Soon it would spill over.
He inhaled, filling his lungs to capacity.
For one breath he would have power over life and death. With a single motion he could change the fate of entire nations. Nay, his actions could change the entire course of history.
Erzaren reached out, touching the handle. He twisted it, slowly, feeling every tick of movement. The end was approaching. The beginning of something new. The door began to open. Music worked its way through the crack. The scent of roasted ham assaulted his nose.
There was one reason he was walking willingly into a trap.
For one breath. One. Single. Breath. He would be a god.
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Featured Image Credit: Sepirgo