An Assassin's Loyalties

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Chapter One

Six years later . . .

Early morning twilight is settling across the kingdom of Valinor. It’s nearing the last couple months of summer, so the weather has gone from grossly humid, to cooling with a gentle breeze coming down from the mountains.

“One more step, and he’s dead.” She snarls with a grin as she holds the bloodied dagger to the nobleman’s throat.

The guards growl in frustration, but before they can speak about negotiations, the assassin vaults herself over Nobleman Nathaniel. She swings her leg through the air, a crest of daggers soaring straight towards the guards. They embed themselves in their eyes, arms, legs and chest. The one in the chest dies instantly, and she already has her blade drawn and embedded in the other guard’s head. Yanking it out, she scoffs in disgust at the eyeball stuck halfway up the blade.

As she lets the man fall with a heavy thump, she turns back and finds Nathaniel trying desperately to crawl away, his hands having become black with his own blood. Faster than a striking asp, she has one of his ankles pinned to the floor by another dagger. So deep that he can feel the reverberations as it pierces through the red carpet and into the tile beneath. Pain rips through his left foot, and then his right as she pins it to the floor.

He screams in agony, the acoustics of the holy building amplifying them into a howl. He lifts his head, eyes filled with tears as he sees her approach, almost gliding like a wraith across the floor, the darkness of her cape billowing behind her.

Gods above . . . he knew who she was.

“I don’t know what you want,” he says, almost sobbing. “b-but I promise you, whoever is paying you, I-I can make it double. Please, just let me live!”

She stops at his right side and tilts her head slightly to the right. Beneath the cowl and mask, all he could see were the eyes with green matching that of emeralds. They would’ve been stunning had he not been scared shitless. With unnerving silence, she crouches before him, drawing another dagger from her belt.

“P-please! I gave the gold on me – or, or it’s in my carriage –!”

He pants as she brings her face close to his. He could see himself in their reflection.

Then after a couple blinks of those eyes, she buries two more blades into his thighs. He bellows the pain and writhes, his ankles rising farther on the blades. She lifts his chin with her gloved hand.

“Pick a finger,” she spoke, her voice like gravel and laced with an unnerving calmness. He shook his head as he trembled. There was a scrunch of the fabric of her mask. She was smiling. “Pick a finger.” She repeated, and this time he felt the coldness of the blade as she pressed it to the base of his thumb.

“P-please.” A wet warmth fills the seat of his pants.

“Thumb it is then.”

“No, no please –!”

Then the church fills with Noble Nathaniel’s agonized wails.

“Stop her!” shouts the guard as a pack of them follow a cloaked figure leaping across the roofs of the buildings.

Her feet glide across the rooftops as she sprints, her heart keeping a steady beat, her breathing even. The ebony mask around her face feels suffocating with her ragged breath, even after six years of training, it was the one thing she couldn’t get used to. Her breath smelt horrible and it permeated the fabric of the mask. Behind her, her cape rippled like a wave of black, spreading like the wings of a raven as she jumped.

As the edge of the roof neared, Sazami Altileth reveled in the feeling of running and jumping. It was the closest thing she had to flying. And sometimes she believed she could.

She leapt across the slope of a tailor’s shop, into the intersecting roof of the city hall.

It would’ve been peaceful, had it not been for the shouts of the many guards tailing her from the church.

As she ducks behind one of the tower spires, the shingles click under her boots. She adjusts her legs, making sure the daggers tucked in her boots wouldn’t poke at her ankles. The many belts and buckles of her weapons clink as she squats low, adjusting the hood over her honey-blonde hair tightly woven into box braids down her back.

The sounds of the guards comes closer, the tinking of their armor as they hobble along. Peering ever so delicately, she sees them gathering in a group, weapons ready, heads turning all around accompanied by colorful swears.

Sazami tries not to sneeze as her nose tickles, the blood on her mask now near dry. She was assigned to eliminate a noble at his morning mass at the church. The man did deserve her credit, he woke up as early as she did for her morning runs – of which she missed this particular break of day due to this mission.

She had spent the better part of the past three days painstakingly memorizing the interior and structure of the church until she could navigate it blindfolded. Having spent a couple hours of each day at the services, she knew who would arrive at what time, and who would most likely spot the body first. Her client made is clear that the news has to spread like wildfire.

According to her client, he ascended to a position that he did not deserve. From the way he described how he wanted Sazami to end him, it temporarily made her question whether or not she should’ve denied the deal.

Sazami ducks behind the spire and prowls along vaulted glass windows on the roof before grabbing the drainpipe and sliding down with one hand. Pressing herself flat against the warm stone, she angles her head around the corner as she watches the guards turn to their captain.

“Spread out, search every area until we find her!” He barks.

Sazami grins like a fiend. Not a chance.

Nimble as a cat and smooth as a snake, Sazami slips from the back of the alley and into a backstreet.

Keeping close to the walls, she disappears into the slightest shadows, just as her uncle had taught her. She keeps a hasty pace with her walking, making to look like a young adolescent in a hurry to head home. Thankfully her clothes are dark enough for no one to notice the blood. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know if she should risk removing her mask. She’s suspicious looking with it on, her outfit is recognizable enough to the guards but at the same time, it keeps people out of her way.

Hopefully the citizens know who she is and won’t squeal without risking a dagger in their neck.

As she passes a gathering of homeless people, their hungry eyes look to her, but dismiss quickly when they behold her looking like nothing but Death itself.

Turning down a corner, she continues walking until her eyes find a small alcove vacant and swallowed by shadows. Suddenly, the sound of the guards’ armor reaches her ears before she even has the chance to take a step towards the alcove. Ducking under a makeshift awning, she pulls her hood further down and leans against the wall, folding her arms. The man sitting next to her, knawing on some rat bones, doesn’t even acknowledge her.

A pair of guards come down the alleyway and the people immediately scramble out of their way. Sazami casually picks under her nails, not even lifting her eyes. The two guards look left and right before continuing deeper into the alley. Carefully, Sazami slips into the alcove. She sits on one of the stone benches as another trio of guards follow the pair.

Once their clinking boots are gone, she looks left and right and grips the cover of the manhole. With a grunt, a twist and a pull, she has the heavy lid free and slips inside as smooth and quietly as a spider.

Her feet immediately splash into the filthy water, and she instantly starts to cough. Her mask isn’t thick enough to stop the smell, but at least it offers some form of sweaty veil from, the putrid odor. The sewers are the only form of tunnel system that connects to almost every inch of Valinor’s streets. Apart from rats and bugs and the occasional torch against the wall, nothing else ever comes down here.

Walking through the putrid smell, feeling it sink into her clothing, Sazami can’t help but curse her uncle for forcing her take such a heinous route, but it was her only option of confidentiality. He had taught her to take this route only when she was caught in the act of murder. After a young boy of the church spotted her near the bodies, she fled.

Having finished her assassination of her target Nobleman Nathanial and his guards, the young man had come inside to set up the church and caught Sazami as she was just finishing up presenting her work. Needless to say his terror-filled scream caught the attention of one of the priestesses, and she ran to call the guards. But Sazami was already gone.

Sprinting through the streets, dodging local citizens, diving through stands and stalls, it was all too easy to shimmy up a drainpipe and lose the guards. There have been no sounds of pursuit since. It was almost disappointing; she loved a good fight. Her uncle can attest to that as Sazami had a pretty impressive track record with the local bars and taverns.

Sazami growls as her boot steps into something spongy, filth sloshing under her with dirtied water. She turns down the familiar corner, marked with scratches she made with her dagger to look like an animal’s claws. By now, the water is thinner. Even if she’s been wandering the sewers since she was fourteen, nothing could ever make her grow used to the putrid smell. And the torches lining the tunnel walls gave off such pathetic lighting. They looked more like small bruises of light within the darkness.

Finally, she reaches the ladder of the manhole that was closest to her home. Tucked around the back of a local inn, hidden behind the stack of empty crates and barrels, the only person likely to see her is either a worker, or a vagrant. After exiting the ally, turning left and going straight for five minutes, she’ll have reached the gate of her uncle’s luxurious mansion.

Sazami grips the cover’s wet handles, twists and pushes up, folding in her lips and clenching her eyes as dirtied condensation drips onto her face. She sets it aside as best she can and climbs up, quickly wiping her face. She lifts and sets the lid back onto manhole as quietly as she can, checking her perimeter constantly.

Once she ditches her bloodied clothes and changes into the spares she keeps buried underneath some inconspicuous stones, she’ll merely have to worry about the fact that she didn’t bring enough gold with her. With her uncle’s mansion being so close to the marketplace, while it is easy to make quick trips, it’s also too tempting when she sees the local shops and their latest seasonal fashion.

Looking around, she goes behind the crates, moves the stones and finds the large, darkened leather satchel.

Quickly, she changes clothes, trying to muffle her sigh as her body can briefly breathe once she’s out of the thick clothing. The day is still early and the air is still cold; it chills the sweat pockets of her body: under her arms, behind her neck, and under her breasts. Sazami wipes away the perspiration, cleans her daggers with her stained clothes and stuffs them all away into the satchel.

Doing her best to adjust her hair, she growls as she tugs her braided strands into a presentable style. The shirt is short-sleeved and thin, and the color of the pants doesn’t match it in the slightest. The shoes are tight and rubbing against the back of her ankle, and gods dammit – there’s a small hole in the shirt’s neckline.

Sazami sighs, peeved at herself for not updating the satchel for the autumn season. It’ll have to do, it’s a short walk. She can deal with it.

Usually, her clothes are the last thing anyone ever looks when they see her. With her mocha colored skin and stunning green eyes, set with a ring of gold around the pupil, she is a proud representation of her homeland of Orvryn, the beautiful scenic kingdom with its beautiful white castle and gold-tiled roofs. Set along the coast, their water is clean, crops are prosperous and the entire coastal air is set with the scent of waterlilies.

How long has it been since she’s set foot on Orvryn soil? Felt the moistened mud of her riverside home under her toes? Shaking her head, Sazami turns her attention to the street outside the alley.

After waiting for two shadows to pass, Sazami squares her shoulders, looks left and right, and walks out, clapping her hands as if to mimic she just disposed of some trash. She keeps a hand on the satchel as she walks, more than aware of the vagrants that aren’t afraid to get violent when they see someone who might hold decent clothes, money, or food. At least this makes carrying her daggers around her waist not too odd-looking.

As she walks down the sidewalk, she either keeps her eyes to the ground or gives a friendly nod when she happens to make eye contact with another stranger. In the street, she already sees mule-pulled carts filled with crates of fruit and sacks of flour. Other early morning risers are walking about, couples linked at the elbow.

She makes it to the intersection and finds the first few stalls of the market across the street. The awnings are being propped up by wooden poles, and table runners are being laid out. To her right is a short walkway, and the road that takes her to her uncle’s. Wiping her palm against her thigh, Sazami jogs across and continues down the street.

As she angles her head up towards the becoming-blue sky, she can’t help but smile. Valinor is a glorious, prosperous society. Located at the foothills of the Stallion Mountains, the kingdom is surrounded by green forests, rolling plains, and foothills that act as their guarding wall. Sazami loved taking her horse and riding through the main gates, out to the dirt trail and into the woods beyond.

As she passes by shops, oil streetlamps have been strung with banners of emerald and pearl, the royal colors of the kingdom of Valinor. At the center of the banners, surrounded by a crown of vines is the symbol of the royal family, the silver gryphon in a proud stance with wings open and one clawed-foot up. The shops soon turn into townhouses and she can already see the small hill and the black gates that open up to the walkway of her uncle’s mansion.

The two guards-for-hire, of whom are well aware of what her uncle does, notice Sazami and immediately open the gates for her. She doesn’t even have to nod her head.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” she says as she passes by.

The enormous house is finished to the highest standard, offering five bedroom suites, large living spaces, and unique entertaining areas which are distributed over three levels and accessed by the grand beige tile feature staircases. She enters through a most impressive entrance hall with double height ceiling and dual staircases.

The cavernous entrance of the mansion makes Sazami’s feet echo almost too loudly. In between the two staircases is a small hallway that leads to one of the living rooms and the study. It’s near nine o’clock now, and her uncle usually likes to read certain poetry books in the morning.

A pair of double oak doors come up on her right and she stops. Respectively, she angles her knuckles and knocks. From the other side, she hears a smooth voice answer: “Come in.”

Grabbing the black knob, Sazami enters and finds her uncle seated behind the large mahogany table, the book of a famous poet from Fireside set on the desk.

Sazami smiles as she approaches, dumping her large satchel into one of the two armchairs posted in front of the desk. He’s still in his night clothes, a cup of tea off to his right like always. She walks around to her uncle and places a kiss on his forehead.

“Welcome home, child,” he says, but his nose quickly wrinkles in disgust. “Oh, by the gods, you smell horrible!”

Sazami can only laugh as she playfully nudges her uncle. “Well, when one has to take the heinous route of the sewers, the smell tends to linger in your clothing.” She rounds back to the front of the desk and plops down into the second armchair.

Jy ruik soos'n perd se gat.” Her uncle says in Orvryn as he waves his hand in air in front of him. Sazami shrugs, smiling. She’s smelled worse than a horse’s ass before.

To hear the native tongue of her people, it brings back memories – but not all good. Her mother used to speak it fluently, as did Sazami, but her accent is nearly gone since she had to learn the common language of Valinor.

Her uncle clears his throat as he closes the book. He speaks the common language when he says, “Now then, would you believe me if I said that I have already gotten reports of your latest, handiwork?”

“If it were anyone else, I wouldn’t. But knowing you, I’d expected as much.” She grins.

With her uncle as the master of an influential assassin’s guild here in Valinor, it’s no surprise that he receives news the minute it happens, even before it gets delivered to the king. He has eyes all over the city and connections in high places – not limited to just one kingdom. While he and Sazami live together in the mansion, he has another Keep in the most respected parts of Valinor where most of the other recruits stay. He did not want any of them around while Sazami was growing up here; especially when she entered her adolescent years.

She watches as her uncle opens a drawer and pulls out a couple sheets of paper. Her uncle has night black tapered hair, small strands of grey starting to sprout. Not bad for a man of his late thirties. His skin is a darker shade than hers, his eyes similar to that of an ember-gold.

He puts his spectacles and reads: “It says here that Nobleman Nathanial was found dead with his guards in the church this morning.” Sazami nods her head. “It was said that Nathaniel was skinned like an animal, and sprawled along the floor like a throw rug. The rest of his body was chopped up into bits and strung up by his intestines, his eyes and tongue cut out, and left dangling from the rafters. His guards’ chest cavities were cut wide open, arms and legs severed and heads left on the altar.”

Sazami’s smile only grows. Her uncle shakes his head and sighs as he removes his spectacles. He tosses the paper closer to her.

“Child, I thought I taught you to be cleaner with your kills.”

“You also taught me to follow the client’s orders, especially if they offer extra coin. And this client wanted it to be . . . memorable.” Sazami leans back in her chair, folding her arms.

“I didn’t think you had such, creativity in you.”

“You doubt me? I learn from the best.”

“No more training sessions with Arthur.” Her uncle mumbles. He waves her off as he returns to the book in front of him. “Now, off with you. You’ve permeated my furniture enough with your smell.”

Sazami laughs and rises from her seat, taking her satchel. “Ek is lief vir jou, uncle.”

“I love you too.”

“Oh, before I forget, was there anything in the mail for me?”

He looks to her and smiles “Nothing so far, but I will let you know.” Sazami groans. “Patience child, patience.”

Leaving the study, Sazami climbs up the steps and makes her way to her spacious suite. The moment she enters, two servants are already there to take her bag and prep a warm bath. Neither of them wisely mention how awful she smells. The warmth of the steam breaches her as she tosses away her dirtied clothes, the smell of lavender wafting into her nose.

Sazami breathes a sigh of pleasure as she takes the three steps down into the warm water, letting herself get swallowed by sweet-smelling bubbles. She scrubs herself pink with the soap, and washes her hair three times, massaging her scalp with diluted shampoo and carefully running down the lengths of her braids with conditioner. Once finished, she pats it dry with a towel and lets it fall down her back.

Walking over to her armoire, she opens the door and drops her towel. Dressing in one of her favorite silk nightgowns – a black one with lace hemline – it reaches down her long legs, stopping just above her ankle. A slit along the side allows for mobility as she plops into one of her armchairs near her fireplace, folding her bare legs. She takes a book she was currently reading yesterday off of the end table and opens to where she had left off.

She then hears someone tentatively knock on one of the doors and she turns her head to find one of her servants; a pretty young thing with dirty blonde hair and bright blue eyes and a sprinkling of freckles across her cheeks and nose. She approaches the assassin hesitantly. The girl is around sixteen – her birthday coming up actually – and she’s holding a small envelope with elegant handwriting and a ribbon made with mother-of-pearl.

“I’m sorry to bother you, Madame; but this is for you.” The girl says, her voice soft and shy. She holds the letter out to Sazami, and the assassin feels a slight bit of amusement, but mostly sympathy when she sees the girl trying to keep her hand from shaking.

It’s not that Sazami and her uncle are abusive to their servants – gods, no – they treat their servants with respect, as her uncle told her first and foremost. Any sign of disrespect from Sazami resulted in nights spent in the mansion’s dungeon.

This girl, her name is Nimpael and she is new . . . and she’s an elf. She probably still has a slight fear of Sazami’s because of her reputation, but Sazami would never harm her servants.

She has races from all across the continents here in her home; most of them were refugees from the mystic continent of Faelenor looking for work. Sazami would understand why they would want to leave the land of “mystery and magic” for something more . . . normal.

Valinor had a small proportion of elves living among the humans, and they live together peacefully. They walk together side by side, their children play together in the square by the fountain, and adolescents walk hand in hand gazing at the viewing glasses. It’s astonishing, no wonder it’s been titled heaven on earth.

Sazami extends out her hand, her polished and uniform nails glinting as she takes the letter with a sweet smile. “Thank you, Nimpael.” She nods to the elf girl.

The girl’s eyebrows rise, but a smile spreads on her face. She opens her mouth as if to say something, but she quickly claps it shut and bows low. She then slips through the doors, but with a little spring in her step. Sazami chuckles to herself as she sets her book aside, and makes her way over to her desk.

Pulling out her letter opener, she opens the envelope making sure to set aside the lovely ribbon. She pulls out a parchment sheet, folded into threes. On it is delicate, feminine handwriting.

Sazami Altileth,

You are cordially invited to attend the princess’s birthday party this afternoon at four o’clock. The princess has personally requested your presence and is excited for your arrival. The attire is formal and will last until midnight. We hope to see you there.

Then it’s the location of the princess’ birthday gathering along with the royal stamp. Sazami smiles. This is what she had been waiting for. According to the location, it was merely a walking distance from her uncle’s mansion. Maybe if she wore her comfortable shoes it wouldn’t be much trouble.

Setting the invitation on the end table near her bed, Sazami calls to her servants to fetch her favorite dress.

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