(You can find Chapter 1 HERE.)
The clamminess of the dagger’s hilt itched Drinith’s palm as she waited behind the door for the man coming to murder her. She felt none of the readiness Gelasin had claimed to see in her. Stripped of her mail shirt, her tunic felt flimsy. Her heart leapt wildly at every swoop and swoon of the wind beyond the palace.
Another young woman with a cloud of red and gold hair, her living reflection, lay in her bed, creating an eerie sense of disembodiment. The candlelight made the cyan gem shine like a star against the green-black night of her forehead. A sheet of red silk molded around her sprawled body, drawing the eye with its vulnerable nakedness. Beneath the massive pillows, however, the girl held an axe.
How could her handmaid, Jarma, display such remarkable calm knowing all the while an assassin drew near? She had disguised herself as Drinith so that the assassin would assume it was she who lay in the bed. If only Drinith could check her nerves as easily her friend and quell the flutter in the pit of her stomach. If she failed this test, both of their lives would be forfeit. It would have been easier to face the assassin alone.
This scheme was the height of folly. She should have never agreed to it.
But it was too late now to send Jarma away. The bright yellow light spilling through the long windows had already darkened to the burnt orange gloom of a Crevast night. The assassin could arrive at any moment.
Her whole body reverberated with the urgent throbbing of her heart. She needed to calm down. She practiced her moves—her dance, as Gelasin dubbed it.
Something flickered in the corner of her eye; a pair of curved shadows bit into the stripe of light beneath the doorway before it disappeared. She held her breath as the handle silently rotated downward. She stepped back as the door gently swung open with nary a creak. Her heart thumped so loudly in the silence an absurd panic gripped her lest her would-be murderer should hear as he drifted into the room with all the softness of a shadow. Hunched and cowled, he raised a stiletto in his left hand, its needle-like blade pointing downward, ready to strike the sleeping girl.
The multiple shifting shadows of the dagger cast by the encircling candles crept up the blood-red silk to close on Jarma’s chest like the hooked fingers of a massive claw. Still feigning repose, she shifted slightly, sighing softly. If Drinith didn’t strike now, it would be the last sound her friend ever made. Tightening her damp grip on her knife, she plunged forward.
Alerted by her soft intake of breath, the assassin swerved around. His knife flicked upward as he swallowed the gap between them in a single precise leap. He stabbed twice with the whole force of his body where her torso should have been, but she had already swerved clear. He swept the blade after her, but she had stepped inside its arc and clamped her arm over his elbow. She had no time to savor the chagrin, briefly betrayed by the candlelight, on his blue-black face. His second dagger flicked out at her from beneath his arm like a striking snake, but she was ready for it. He yowled as she drove her knife through his hand, impaling it into his forearm, forcing him to drop his weapon. Her blade had penetrated deeper than she had intended; she had only meant to cripple his hand. She yanked her knife free and drove it at his neck, chasing the moment of victory Quiescat had foreseen. The assassin slapped at her with his wounded hand. He twisted clear and jammed his knee into her stomach. Winded, she lost hold of his arm, but she fastened onto it again before it could slip free. Bright pain jabbed her side. Ignoring his bloody slaps, she stabbed his arm three times, cracking bone, snapping the tip of her blade. She threw herself upon him with a violent roar. Her dagger made a loud crunch as it rammed into his chest. As he flopped back, the blade pulled her forward and she toppled with him. The floor slammed her blade deeper, sinking it all the way to the hilt. She rolled off him as Jarma dropped her axe on him. Blood spurted from the assassin’s neck as his severed head rolled across the floor. It came to a stop at an awkward angle, gazing up at Drinith in bewilderment until the last vestige of life drained away.
Warm blood greased Drinith’s tunic. She assumed it was all her assailant’s until a sharp pain in her side reminded her otherwise.
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