This story is by Lindsi McIntyre and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
He slipped through the window, no more than a shadow in the night, and came to a stop at the side of the bed. His targets slept peacefully unaware their time was quickly coming to an end. Two strikes, a brief moment of realization in their eyes, then it was done. He left the way he had come. Not even the faintest rustle of cloth gave him away.
His contact waited for him in a nearby forest. “Impeccable work, Shi.” the hooded man said. “As usual.”
Shi. Death. It wasn’t his real name but it was sufficient. Naming him gave those he worked with comfort. As if it would protect them should he turn on them instead of serve them. Good. A relaxed enemy was always preferable to one on his guard. And everyone was his enemy.
The man held out his payment. A small pouch that would contain a hundred silver pieces. A small price to pay to get rid of the competition costing his master hundreds in gold a year. He held out his hand and accepted the offering.
The twang of a bolt being loosed from a crossbow was his only warning that something wasn’t right. He dove to the side. A second later the bolt slashed across his upper arm. The hooded man cursed. But his panicked eyes weren’t focused on the new attacker. Instead, they focused on Shi’s escape. Shi looked up at him, saw the truth in his eyes. Betrayal.
He moved, his blade like lightning striking across the sky, opening the man’s throat to the cool night air. Blood poured freely from the wound. Death ignored it. Another twang told him this new enemy wasn’t done trying to take his life. Fools.
Only this bolt seemed destined to miss, as if the shooter weren’t trying to hit him. Realization dawned just as the poison that must have lined the first bolt started to take effect. His vision blurred, causing him to stumble. His knee struck the ground. Shadows formed at the base of the trees, closing in. It was the last thing he saw before the darkness consumed him.
A door slammed shut from somewhere down the hall echoing off the prison walls with eerie finality. Shi sat with his back against the cold stone of his cell. He’d woken a few hours before, his arms wrapped in more chains than even he thought was necessary. He chuckled. Getting out of this one wasn’t going to be easy. Very well. That just added to the fun.
The distinctive sound of boots clacking against the stone floor bounced down the corridor as the sound of the door faded. Drawing closer and closer. Perhaps a guard on their way to check on him? I’m still here, he thought lips stinging against his teeth as he grinned. For now. Moments later, a woman, a lady of means by her dress, materialized in front of the bars making up the opposite wall of his cell. Her eyes met his, and she drew back slightly at the sight of his face. He had been told his smiles chilled blood. The lady certainly seemed to think so.
“Well, well, well. To what do I owe the pleasure of such fine company?”
Her hands clenched into fists at her sides. Her delicate, feminine chin, so easy to crack in a fight, rose a fraction. But it was the look in her eyes, the raging fury, the bloodlust, that truly caught his attention. “I came to take a look at the monster who has ruined so many lives.”
“You’re going to call me a monster when you have that look in your eyes?”
Her lashes fluttered. The color in her face rose even as her lips grew tight and lost their pink hue. He chuckled. “We’re all monsters, lady. The rest of you just hide behind fancy talk instead of nightfall.”
Her fist slammed into one of the bars. “You killed my father! I want to know why.”
He shrugged. “I’ve killed lots of fathers. You’ll have to be more specific.”
Ugh. Tears. This was why he preferred male targets. The females always cried if given the chance. Not that he was ever swayed by them, but he preferred to let targets keep a little of their dignity if at all possible. Crying showed weakness.
“His name was Francis Dune,” she said. “And he was the kindest man that ever lived.”
Shi snorted. “Shocking how many kind men end up having contracts taken out on them.”
She struck the bars again.
He raised a brow. “Keep that up and you’re going to hurt yourself.” Then the name registered in some shut-off place in his mind. “Dune? I have heard that name before…He was a Lord, wasn’t he?” Shi sat back and smiled. “So, a proper lady has come to visit me in my last hours. Not bad.”
All the fight seemed to go out of her at once. She looked at him sadly. No. Pityingly. “I don’t know what I was expecting. Certainly not remorse. But…” She shook her head. “You’ll die for your crimes. I suppose that is the only answer I’ll get.” She turned to go.
She dared to turn her back? On him! He shot to his feet, the chains slamming as they locked in to place. She jumped at the sound and spun back to face him, eyes wide. That was better. Fear was always preferable to pity. He relaxed his stance, letting his rage melt into condescension. “Don’t stick up your nose at me little miss. You’re apt to find it cut off soon after.” He rolled his head to ease the tension building in his neck. “As for your father. He happened to cross someone with enough money and connections to hire me. That’s all. It wasn’t personal.” He sneered. “He was just a name on a list.” Shi paused. The fear in her eyes had melted away but instead of the pain he had hoped to cause, his words seemed only to confuse her.
“Hire? You’re saying someone hired you to kill him?”
He sighed. “Of course. You don’t think I’d bother killing other people’s enemies for free, do you?”
She practically threw herself back at the cell. “Who? Who hired you?” He lifted a brow. This woman was as mercurial as they came. Still. She was more entertainment than not. He thought back. “He tried to hide his identity behind stand-ins, but I never do a job unless I know exactly who it is for.” He snickered. “Little fool thought no one would keep tabs on secret meetings kept by a Prince.”
“Prince?” Her eyes widened in horror. “Prince Leebert?”
“The same. He must have needed your father out of the way for some reason.” He ran a bound hand over the stubble lining his chin. “I guess that secret will die with me.” He flinched as the final pieces fell into place. “Convenient I happen to have been caught just in time to keep it from interrupting his coronation.”
Her hands fell from the bar. Slowly she sank to the floor her eyes wide but seeing nothing.
“My lady,” someone called from down the hall. “We have to go.”
She blinked, stood, and shot him one last hard look. Surprisingly, he had no idea what she was thinking as she turned and walked away.
The door creaked open late that night. Shi held perfectly still, though his senses were on high alert. Soft footsteps made their way to his cell. So. They planned to execute him at night? It was certainly cleaner that way. Less chance he’d spill what he knew to a watching crowd.
The lock turned. The door creaked open. His pulse jumped. He took a slow breath. Not yet. Not until after they unlocked his chains…Then he’d act. They drew close as the soft smell of roses filled his senses.
“I know you’re awake.” He recognized her voice instantly. “No one would fall for that.”
He didn’t respond.
“If what you told me earlier was true…I can’t let you die here. My father deserves true justice, not some sham meant to save the person who killed him. I have some friends who are going to help me get you out.”
Her skirts rustled faintly. She pressed a small pouch into his hand. “Since I know you can’t be trusted unless there’s something in it for you. This ring should cover the cost of your co-operation for a day.” She moved away. The cell door shuttered to a close.
“Be ready to leave at first light,” she said.
He grunted without looking up. Her steps faded down the hall. He would be ready. He grinned. And if the time came to turn on her, he’d be ready for that too.
He was a monster, after all.