“Anton, what crimes does he stand accused of?” Clay growled under breath while taking a bended knee.
The emperor who brought the longest peace for the empire he had known glanced a moment to make sure none heard him speak, and then said a simple phrase for such a diplomatic man. ““Crossed the wrong people, didn’t pay his debts, ran afoul of the law…does it matter?”
“No.” Clay lied, because it always did but never stopped him and with that Clay stood and walked out of the throne room. The Emperess entered the room followed by the young heiress to the empire as he left. Clay smiled at the young Isobelle, his face horribly disfigured by the scars of his most recent youth. She recoiled in fear for a moment and then smiled back as he pulled his long hair back into a braid and held it across his lips in a mocking gesture of her fathers facial hair.
Reinvigorated by her youth he began to place on the ceremonial armor he had worn for milennia, some pieces older than others, but all old and mostly of dwarven and elven make, odd for a series of men who served the human emperors for as long as any who ever thought of it, especially Clay who had never took a bended knee any but the emperor even when the rules of court demanded it. As he tied each belt he smiled at the sound of adamantine against adamantine, like the sound of clay against tin he thought to himself for a brief movement. “pewter, that will be my “sons” name, should it ever come to pass, but maybe, this time when I close my eyes, it will be for good.”
He doubted anyone would worry about his presence amongst the empress and her coterie. After all, he protected the empire and that has always meant the crown as well, well, except that one time. He cleaned himself up as best he could, hair behind the ears white and gray, as was the custom, to solidly show your humanity. It was a tradition he hated, but it had been lifetimes since he mentioned his own wife and loyalty to the emperors. They expected their wolf to be a dog, and while he swore to himself every day he would never be a dog, he knew he was to the outisde. His arms he knew would betray him, so he tried hard to keep them close to his chest. Only an idiot would ever suspect a slouch for an invalid, but nobles were accustomed to the latter far more than the former. He entered with confidence into the dining area. Three blades strapped to his thighs, another hidden in his boot, and another smaller blade keep his face in a unwanted grim hidden in his mouth.
As Clay approached his target he saw a small woman across the room. He evaluated quickly and decided she was not a threat to Anton or his and as such he did not worry. His eyes continued to scan the crowd looking for the elf who while not a bastard by title, if what Anton said was true, was a larger bastard than he had ever pretended to be. The woman was barely an adult and evaluated as familiar to his own mission but ultimately as a non-threat, and quickly his eyes darted to the right. High cheekbones, silver haired from under his hood, his prey was close. He was delayed by her majestys coterie, he had to walk around her maidens. 2000 years, and the difference between a handmaiden and a queen still got in his way.
There he was, smoking a halfling weed from an undersized pipe as he approached. Clays eyes watched each servant as they entered and exited. His eyes narrow as he decided his next move. He took off his suit jacket, barely hiding the armor underneath as is, punched a servant in the face and slid a gold piece into his pocket and held a finger for the briefest moment above his lips as the servant slid to the floor and out of continuity with the waking world . He apologized as grabbed the servants tray and stood near the kitchen. He turned around and made his way towards his target. The small woman form earlier was suddenly in front of him. No time to lie, he was bad at that. He grabbed her arm “Le’s go some’ere private’like to catch up, darlin” Clay was supposedly from the furthest reaches of the empire he made a mental note to use contractions and the stereotypical western language words whenever possible.
He walked towards the garden, should this be an assassin aimed against the crown, he knew the hedges well and was sure he could track them. A quick summary of his surrounding and he lead her into the maze.
As he passed a bush in full bloom he spoke he finally had a chance to giver her a once over. Two blades he could see, he assumed at least six others. Deep breath. “I know your kind.”
She batted her eyes perfectly as she said “I don’t know what your talking about, sir.” That was her slip. The nobles would never respect the bastards of Holleth as sir. She was young, she still assumed nobles liked and respected one another.
He laughed. “Cut the bullshit. You’re good, I’ll give you that. But you cased the place three days ago. I saw you on the roof then, and I saw you on the roof tonight.” These spooks might scour the empires shadow, but it was his job to see past the shadows, to sniff, hear and see the threats.
The young woman didn’t say a word.
Clay breathed deep and smiled. “I don’ know who gave you the contract, darlin’, but dis one is marked for the Empire.”
She met his eyes “What does the Empire want with an elf like Jarend?” he barely held back the shudder as he echoed Anton’s words. “Crossed the wrong people, didn’t pay his debts, ran afoul of the law. What does the Guild want with him?”
She mimed his tone back to him “Crossed the wrong people, didn’t pay his debts, ran afoul of the law.”
He dropped his voice down a range. “You’re cute. That’ll bite you in the ass one day.”
“I was here first.” she said, both accurately and with confidence.
He inhaled sticking out his chest “Doesn’t matter if I get to him first.” He squeezed her arm just a little bit harder. “Why don’t you walk away?”
The girl moved her head ever so slightly, then stopped. This woman became a blank slate. He began to walk away.
He exhaled deeply. “That’s a real shame.” He stopped walking and turned to face her, examining her from boot to hair. The woman met his eyes, her face blank. He shook his head. “You’re young.”
The woman looked directly at him, not to him, simply at him. “I’m older than I look.”
He mentioned to himself that such a young person being on the prowl was his fault. He should have caught this sabateur sooner.
He nodded to an elderly couple that passed too close to them, waited for them to walk by when theyd didnt stop approached he audibly grolwed, that made them shift directions. “Our man isn’t going to show tonight,” he said. “Something spooked him. It’s a fox hunt.” He looked at her. “And a race.” Slowly, he let go of her arm.
She looked him directly in the eyes, no fear showing. “So it is.”
I was on his trail. The idiot left not only a paper trail of bills of sale but he was usually a creature of habit. He was an idiot. A brave idiot, but an idiot. He actually chekecked his safe house regularly. Clay sketched a map and wrote the times the elf walked past each location daily. He jotted his name on it as well, but that mattered little. If you attempted to slay the crown, your sentence in court was always death. Galon was always hesitant until they actively started trying. He was happy to hunt out a man with murder in his heart, but hesistant to hunt down a man with murder in his mind. But the poisons were bought, his route well established and with the holiday coming up, it was obvious how it would collide. Death was the sentence whether or not it happened from the gallows or in his hands, this man was dead.
They day was at hand, and everything happened exactly as he expected. The elf walked his route and Clay watched him. Turn the first corner, retirve the blade hidden weeks ago. Turn the next, bend down to tighten his boots, and retirve the poison. Turn again and drag the poison bladder across the blade. Close enough, Anton would be coming down the street. He dropped onto the street below. Making sure to cause a sound not that the sound of admantine on stone was ever quiet.
His left hand grabbed the executioner’s blade from its sheath, his right hand free except for the spiked gaunlet, ready to choke the truth out of any it encoutnered. The crowd parted for him as they saw his armor. The time for stealth was at an end. He used the illusion of being slow to his advantage. Smash into the can as you turn the corner. “trip” over a the chicken box that wont even slow you down. Clay knew where the city guards routes were. All he had to do was lead the idiot to a point where hed have to turn around to outrun the “slower” man.
Damn it, someone else was running as well. He had made note os possible accomplices, and none were likely. What kind of idiot chases an armed assassin down an alley. A moment after he spotted her she was up and out of pursuit. A different target for a different day. He let his right pauldron drag across the concrete as he ran. He thought to himself “Turn left, turn left, turn left. See the guards, see me fumbling to make the turn and turn back, then your mine.” And then the idiot made the right. Not just off the parade route, but not even the smarter choice, he stumbled through day old trash cans, kicking up rotten cabbages into the air.
He looked back and saw Clay, and a look of recognitionw ashed over him. Damn, time to make a move. Clay started running after the Elf. A blur of movement ahead, and he ignored it. The elf came to a stop and lurched onto his knees. Clay was on him in under a second. The elf reached toward his own face and fell forward as he rounded him from the corner of his eyes he could see a sharpened ice pick sticking out of his head. Clay walked around him to the font looking at the the blur and ignoring the soon to be deadman. He saw the small woman from before, her right breast had a small loop meant to hold a thin blade. Without breaking sight, he reached down with his left hand dropping the executioiners blade and retrieved the blade.
Clay began to whistle a song from the last century, at the time the song was upbeat, but he slowed it down to the beat of modern dirge. “Nice work, darlin’” He turned his head slightly making sure to keep her in view. “Din’t even see you until you ran.”
She looked at him. Still no fear, her eyes narrowed on him. As if she was actively contemplating his death. She breathed the words more then saying them “So what happens now.”
Clay shrugged and smiled at her, as he pulled back his coat to reveal all the blades he carried. As well as all of his teeth “What is it you think I’d do?”
She didnt even look away as she insulted him/ “You’re the Empire’s attack dog. I think you’d do whatever you wanted. Like take credit for my kill.”
Clay laughed, a type of laugh he hadnt laughed in centuries. “You’re brave, girl. No one has talked to me like that in years. ”
Her hands drifted to her blades. “I’ve met worse.”
Clay without thinking said “I’m sure you have.” He looked back down at the body. The heart had stopped beating and the blood had pooled into a biazzera pattern across the stones. He stood tall as tall as he could for his age and said. “Well, go ahead and finish it.”
He took a step back from her. Watching as she reached into her bag and pulled out a piece of parchment tied with a black velvet ribbon. An uknown ritual to him. His eyes memorized every move she made as she went. She left the parchment on the elf’s still chest. Her eyes never left his, his never left her.
Clay nodded when she stood back up. “Congratulations, assassin. You’ve got your man. You’ve earned it.” He handed her stiletto back to her. “Witnessed by a servant of the Emperor, if anyone should question it. I’ll send someone to take care of the mess.”
She looked at him, with a different look, maybe, befuddled? “That’s it?”
Clay spoke as he gestured for the guard who followed his purposely noisy pursiot. “The elf is dead. Seems like there’s nothing for me to do.” With that he turned and left. He nodded once more at her and the guards before walking around the corner, the armor clinking with every step. When she was out of sight but she was all but out of mind.
Spoke to no-one at all. “Maybe my dear, our own adopted children could be as brave as to look a hungry wolf in the mouth and deny it its kill.” He stopped and looked around the corner “Hey kid, what your…” seeing nothing but shadows he plucked a dandelion from the the crack in the cobblestones and tossed it on the ground. “I miss when you would do that, don’t ever forget that.”