At First Sight
From the shadows, he sees her clearly. How could he not? She is devastatingly beautiful. Her eyes are rich and dark, her tawny skin soft and devoid of blemishes. Chestnut waves tumble over her shoulders, gathered by a string at the nape of her neck. Even in this bustling indoor marketplace—its air heavy with the odour of day-old fish, musty tapestries, and the rumble of conversation—she is easy to spot and follow, especially wearing her red sash adorned with a silver pin.
His heart beats unsteadily in his chest as he locks his eyes on her, watching her conversation with a bookseller. The discussion seems tame, congenial, unlike the loud argument between the jewellery merchant and a plump woman with pearls and emeralds already dripping from her fat wrists. From four or five stalls away, the woman is clearly heard, and her voice is irritating and distracting. But he shuts her out and concentrates on the woman smiling and gesturing to the bookseller’s many wares.
He inches closer into the light, his palms sweating. What might she think of him if he simply approaches her and asks her to follow him somewhere quiet and private? Will she think he is too forward? Will she grimace with disdain and walk away? Will she call the guards?
Closer. Doesn’t matter, he thinks. I need to do anything I can.
Closer. He pretends to browse the tapestries two stalls away. The merchant doesn’t understand why he isn’t looking at him. Why he isn’t answering him when he proclaims, “We have pieces all the way from Lembross, fine sir! Would you like to see them?”
Closer. He’s at the candlestick seller’s stall now, right next to the bookseller. Drawing a deep breath to calm his rolling stomach, he looks sideways at the woman now perusing an old, tattered book just a stall away. He hopes he appears interesting and seductive rather than terrified.
She finally catches his eye, and offers a sweet smile that turns his insides to water. “Good day,” she says with a nod.
He nods too. “Good day,” he replies and approaches her. “Is that a good book?”
She glances back at the book and shrugs. “It’s an old history book I need for my studies.” Then she meets his eyes again. She is even more beautiful up close. “But yes, it’s very interesting. Would you like to see?”
She holds it out to him, and he takes it and flips through the pages, not really reading anything. “What are you studying?” he asks. I must proceed cautiously. Slowly.
She takes the book back. “Ancient worlds, geography, economies, different cults and societies,” she rattles off. “Dull things to most people.”
“Not to me. I've conducted my own studies on Nequa's societies before. Which ones have you been focusing on?"
She smirks. "Dark lord worship, especially Mirus and Umbra."
She shakes her head, but he notices her clutch her book more tightly to her chest. "The dark lord of death isn't worshiped. Only feared. Like Tristus."
"I suppose it depends on how one would worship. If, like everyone else, they try to leech some benefit from whomever they're worshiping, they could potentially worship Tristus to entreat sorrow and loss on some other poor individual. Or even death." The woman nods and shrugs her petite shoulders again. Kurtis realizes he's been talking too much and feels heat climb his cheeks. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I said all that."
She laughs a little. "It's all right."
More at ease, Kurtis tries to maintain eye contact when he asks, "Why don’t we go for a little walk and you can tell me about what you think?”
She laughs a little and says, “I’m sorry. I’ve got to be getting to my class. Another time, perhaps?”
Disappointed, almost panicked at the loss of opportunity, he quickly says, “Oh! Could I at least walk with you to your class?”
She smiles at him, tucking the book under one arm and dumping out some gold to the bookseller. “I wouldn’t want to disturb your day, sir.”
“You couldn’t. I know it is terribly forward of me, but I feel like some things don’t happen twice.”
After another moment’s consideration, she steps aside and gestures to take his arm. Excitement rushes through his veins as he takes hers and walks with her out of the market.
When Kurtis is led by this lovely woman to an alley behind the building she studies in, he knows that circumstances couldn’t be better. It is dark, secluded, and empty. And when he pushes her to the wall and pins her throat there by his arm, she is the one who surprises him with a fierce kiss against his unexpected lips.
He pulls back, and his head is spinning like a wild sand tornado. What was that?
“Is that all you wanted?” she asks him, her voice soft and lilting.
Kurtis is horribly conflicted. Half of him wants to back up and turn away, to never see her again, to let her study her books and live her life and forget all about him.
But the other half of him burns, reminds him that he can’t turn back. He’d be turning back to an empty life. To a life of endless, aimless nothing. This is the beginning of a long, undoubtedly difficult journey--a journey that will hopefully end with peace and satisfaction. And this is the first step. The first page.
The first person he will ever kill.
“No,” he says, the pain in his voice so obvious it disgusts him. Steeling himself, he whips out the hidden dagger under his sleeve and dashes it across her pale throat.
Her features change from enticement to shock and pain in an instant. Deep crimson blood sputters out of her mouth. Fountains from the gash in her neck. As she crumples to the ground making awful gurgling noises, Kurtis steps back, fighting nausea and panic. Trembling, he wipes his hands absently on his shirt and looks down. Her warm blood is sprayed all over him. He feels it on his face. He tastes it.
Kurtis hurriedly—and with violently shaking fingers—tears the silver pin out of her blood-spattered red sash. A voice at the entrance to the alley catches his attention. A shout.
Terrified, Kurtis glances for escape. Thankfully, the furthest wall of the alley is lined to the summit with windows and borders. He stuffs the pin into his pocket and leaps onto the wall. With both natural and taught skill, he ascends the wall almost effortlessly. The voice behind him screams in terror. A man’s unbridled shout of horror.
Tumbling over the edge of the roof and scrambling to his feet causes the pin to slip out of his pocket, but Kurtis doesn’t realize until the ping! registers in his brain. He looks back to see it had landed precariously close to the edge of the roof. When he goes to retrieve it, he sees the man at the bottom clutching the dead woman and sobbing. A penetrating coldness spreads over Kurtis as he watches them a moment longer than he really should. He then finds himself and tucks the pin away more securely before he begins the full-speed sprint across the rooftops of the city of Nequa, with the bright light of the mid-morning sunshine glittering all around him.