Part I - Bringer of Storms :: 6
The Cyneweard tracked his target for two days. Vice Chairman Clanton kept taking off-main paths to his destinations, spent lots of time in bars and tailhomes and bathhouses. Seedy establishments for a member of the illustrious Machinist Group administration. What ever would the powers that be think?
He never followed Clanton into the establishments in fear of breaking the trail. The target was wary, and rightfully so considering the company he was keeping at ever-increasing rates. There were no patterns or regimens here, nothing for which he could plan. He'd have to take his opportunity when it arose and pounce, no matter the time of day.
The Cyneweard looked up to the sky and saw the pink glow of the rising sun. The rain that had plagued the town for days had finally broken overnight. He expected today to be bright and hot. If there was ever a day to make a move, it was today.
His target had just ducked into a bar at an hour reserved for sleep or work. Either he had business there with a flagon or he was meeting with someone where recognizable faces are few and far between. He guessed the latter as they were about as far from the man's home as they could get. Little Mille was not a frequent host of the Machine's administration as far as he knew. Clanton's presence was enough to have turned a few heads but not so uncommon that it raised alarm.
Clanton exited the bar after what he assumed was a long meeting of the minds and darted off towards an alleyway beside the bar. That alley bled between a Chamatri temple and four bathhouses and would be all-but-empty this early.
The Cyneweard moved from behind the steamcart across the road and ducked into the alleyway's entrance. A whistleaf cigarette rolled between his lips but was not lit, a mere decoration for his audience. He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms, watching as a few early-morning wanderers passed by. His ears were tuned to the sounds of his target's footsteps.
He's slowing the Cyneweard thought and flicked the cigarette to the ground with his tongue. His feet were clad in soft-soled bull-hide and made little sound as he moved further down the alleyway.
Clanton was taking very careful steps, head tilted and turned upward. The target was about two hundred paces up the alley, not paying any attention to what was in front of or behind him.
His opportunity had come. He started to rush forward. Clanton heard the heavier footfalls and turned. The target's face flushed and he turned back, beginning to run at a pace the Cyneweard could not believe. A cushy administrator could run that fast?
For a moment, everything shifted. As he began to put real effort behind his gate, the Cyneweard felt a searing heat tearing at his cheek. He turned his face and was greeted by a great blast of super-heated wind. He felt a concussive force slam into his chest and throw his awkwardly positioned body into the wall to his right. He grunted. The back of his head made significant contact with stone and his eyes filled with tears and stars. His ears were nothing but ringing bells. The air reeked of sulfur. He coughed, shook his head, and started to get up. A knee tried to fail him but he locked it at the joint and pulled himself up using the uneven-set stone bricks in the wall.
Dust and smoke flooded the alleyway. Blinking away the dust only left more room for the smoke to come and sting at his eyes. He growled and pulled at his hat brim, but felt nothing but his wiry hair.
The smoke filled everything: his eyes, his lungs, his ears, everything. He couldn't fathom what had happened, and didn't care much either. He had a job to do. Conjecture would have to wait. He coughed, spat, coughed again. The damned smoke would not go away.
Yelling. He could hear yelling in the distance. He perked up, having spent the last few moments leaned against the wall, wishing he could breathe without a smoke stack attached to his mouth. He checked at his ears. No blood. He would not lose his hearing.
The yelling became clearer and he started to pick up the soft brushing caused by the slow and shaky motions of his target. He turned his head and opened his eyes. Just a few steps away, was Clanton, dust covering his bloodied face. The explosion had knocked them closer together.
The Vice Chairman blinked and began to realize that he was still in danger. He started to run but a knife caught him in the back of his shin. His planted foot failed to keep him erect and he tumbled to the ground.
The Cyneweard pulled the knife from his target's leg, slammed the man's head into the dirt path, and then yanked at his hair.
"No, please. No. I'll pay you. What do you want?" Clanton stuttered and spat, dust thick in his mouth, voice tinny from the broken nose rendered from the assailant's blow to the back of his head.
He felt a knife press into the skin just below the side of his jaw. He tried to shift his arm to the small slugthrower that he kept on his hip but felt his attacker's knee dig further into the spot between his shoulder blades. Breathing was becoming a chore.
"No. Please no. Please," Clanton started to yell, pulling in great gasps of the filthy air. He coughed between screams. The attacker remained silent, the knife's edge pressing heavy to his neck. Was he about to die? How? Why him? What had he done? He had only done the bidding of the Machine for the good of the people. Who was this man? Would he get to see his office again?
The attacker let the knife bite into the target's flesh. Clanton started to whimper. The Cyneweard could see the man's tears starting to stain the filthy path, dark circles blossoming in the dirt.
"Please. I don't want to die. I'll do whatever. I tell you whatever. Just don't...just don't..."
The attacker knew no one would hear or pay attention to the man's pleas in this raucous and he didn't feel like listening to it either. Fortune had favored him this day. He wouldn't keep her waiting.
Where's my hat? he thought, turned his head to look over his shoulder, and flicked his wrist. He left the target to a bloody, spasming end.