As planned, two days later we reached Tardon. It was nice to know that Tark didn’t have as much power there. But I still was keeping an eye out for possible trouble. I thought it would be better to do this because if I was wrong then I wouldn’t have been disappointed. If I was right, then I wasn’t surprised.
It was probably because I was keeping such a sharp lookout that I managed to ensure that we avoided the surprising amount of border guards, not only on Ranvier’s side, but Tardon’s too. There were a lot more than usual.
It would had taken approximately three weeks to reach Elfish Territory on foot. It was one of the few times in my life that I wished that there were some sort of creature or thing that I could just ride when traveling instead of walking. But the animals in this realm weren’t ideal at all for riding upon. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would not be able to handle being off the ground. I wouldn’t be able to sense things as well.
On top of that, other means of transportation that didn’t involve walking easily attract attention, and that wouldn’t have suited our mission at all. We were trying not to attract attention.
We travelled for about two days in Tardon when I sensed one of those fancy ways of transportation going along the roads, a carriage that was built with magic to move all by itself. It was coming in quickly.
“It would most likely sense us if we were to hide in the woods,” Arion commented. “These carriages most of the time have enchantments to do so in order to alert the passengers of possible robbers.”
“What do you think we should do?” Artemis asked.
“Let’s keep walking on the trail,” Arion suggested. “They’ll most likely think we are normal travellers.”
“Sounds reasonable,” I commented. Everyone agreed.
When it came into view, Artemis then whispered, “It’s the royal carriage.”
I noticed Arion scooted a little farther to the side of the road.
The carriage then started zooming by us, but it slowed down in order to make sure it didn’t hit us as it was going past. I could tell there were three people inside and one in front steering.
I didn’t think much of this until the carriage then slowed to a stop. The three passengers stepped out. They looked our way, and it was clear, even to me, that they were staring at us. I thought that when people stared, it meant that someone had done something wrong or unbelievable, which made me think that they recognized one of us.
“Arion?” the one in front, who appeared to be a young adult, called out.
“Greetings, Althalos,” Arion then reluctantly called out. Althalos was Tardon’s prince. It appeared that he recognized Arion.
The three of them rushed forward. Althalos hugged Arion, and he hugged back after a brief pause. Then they started bombarding Arion with questions. Some were to see if it was really him by asking him stuff only he would know, others were along the lines of you have been dead over a year how are you here, and there were also some that basically asked who are these people you are travelling with.
Arion answered the questions that they asked to check on his identity. He avoided telling his story right then.
When asked who he was travelling with, he answered, “This is Artemis, the dog is Shade, and the elf is Raven.”
“I suppose we should have introduced ourselves better,” Althalos replied. “You know who I am. This,” pointing to a teenage boy a few years younger than him, “is my younger brother Kallinos. And the last person is my bodyguard, Perrette.”
The group gave off interesting auras. Althalos and Kallinos both had the plain regular human auras. Absolutely no magic in them. But their auras still were firm for a human’s, as if they had a different power they were using other than magic. Althalos’s was more stable than Kallinos’s was though.
Perrette was a familiar, who is a humanoid that has the ability to transform into an animal, while a human they still kept animal characteristics. It was easy to tell she was a white tiger, as she shared very similar characteristics to one. She stood tall, and, even though she appeared to have an average build, I could tell it was all muscle. She had tiger ears and tails still in her humanoid form. Her aura was simple, yet filled with a sense of power of both a human and a tiger.
“What brings you to these parts?” Arion asked, trying to take the attention off him.
“My father, King Orwell, has just passed away,” Althalos answered. “Causes are unknown. It appears to be most likely heart problems, but no way to know for sure. So, we were burying him in the tomb of the Kings and Queens of Tardon.”
It was tradition in Tardon that the royal family’s successor buried the previous ruler.
Arion told him, “That’s unfortunate. King Orwell was a great man and king.”
“So, where are you headed?” Kallinos asked.
“Elfish Territory,” Artemis answered.
“We are heading that way as we go to the Capital,” Kallinos told us. “We can give you a lift.”
Artemis, Arion, Shade, and I took a moment to discuss it.
“It will be a three day journey at most in the carriage,” Arion told us.
“It will be a week on foot,” I replied.
“True, but we’ll have to tell them what’s going on.”
“Do you trust them?” Artemis asked.
“Yes, but I don’t want to make the conflict any bigger than it has to be,” Arion answered.
“Oh well, I think we should just go with them,” I told him.
“Why do you want to go with them?” Arion questioned.
I tried to glare at her as I mentioned, “You do realize I want this journey to be done as fast as possible, right?”
“Okay then,” Arion murmured. “I guess we’ll go with them.”
When we told the others our decision and set off. I wasn’t worried about drawing attention because if we stayed inside no one would know it was us. They would only think it was Althalos’s group, allowing us to peacefully ride on.
Once in the carriage, Arion told them on the journey his story starting with Tark’s betrayal and leading up to the moment where they found us. Artemis and Shade added in comments, but I guessed that no one but Artemis and me understood Shade’s comments.
Luckily for us, they were quick to believe Arion’s story. They offered to help us on our journey by letting us travel in their carriage all the way through Tardon. They wanted to give us one, but we decided it would draw too much attention to ourselves. The others agreed and relented.
In the end, they came up with a different plan. Since after Althalos was crowned there was a traditional travel that all new monarchs did to visit all five of Tardon’s major fiefs, and there was one near the border of Elfish Territory. They decided to go to that one first and when they approached the border to secretly drop us off there. Then we would go our separate ways.
I liked how that plan would shorten our journey through Tardon from three weeks to eleven days. (We would have to wait a day and a half in Tardon’s capital for Althalos’s coronation before we set off.) I was willing to stand a few more people for that.
The rest of the day, we all rode along closer to our destinations.
The next day went by just as smoothly. No problems. I noticed though that Perrette kept looking around as if watching for something. This started to make me wary. When familiars are assigned to someone, like Perrette was to Althalos, then their number one job is to protect their charge. So if Perrette was on edge, then something was up.
Later that night, I wasn’t having an easy time going to sleep. I found out that I had a hard time sleeping on the moving carriage. And since we simply just needed someone awake on the driver’s seat, we were able to move on through the night. We couldn’t move as fast in the night because apparently the enchantment worked better with light, but it was better to move than to sit still.
Artemis was the one sitting in the driver’s seat, but Perrette was up there with her. Perrette had taken a little magic orb that shined some light only to those within three feet of it. She was using the light to read a stack of papers.
“What are you up to?” Artemis questioned. Perrette looked up from her papers. Her ears and tails twitched.
“I’m reading through some reports of unsolved cases in Tardon,” Perrette answered.
Artemis tilted her head as she commented, “Seems like you’re on the lookout for something.”
She shrugged and murmured, “Possibly. Yet again I could just be chasing illusions.”
We went around a turn as Artemis asked, “So what happened to make you chase after these illusions?”
Perrette paused before answering by saying, “Our king died after appearing perfectly fine a few hours before. Even if he had a small cold for the few previous weeks. The head of the army was found dead a few hours before by supposedly falling off the castle walls. I don’t like coincidences, especially not after the fake king of Ranvier seems to be doing everything in his power to stir up trouble with us.”
“Tark has been messing with Tardon?” Artemis asked.
“Yes,” Perrette growled. “It’s as if he wants to go to war with us at the most inconvenient time possible for us.”
Artemis sighed and stated, “He already took control over one kingdom. I guess one wasn’t enough for him.”
Perrette nodded and said, “I think he sent someone to cause these little misfortunes to happen to us. I’m trying to figure out who. The thing is hired killers usually work within a few kingdoms. So I took some reports from the last three years of unsolved cases and started looking for someone who fits this style of work.”
“How’s it going?”
“I’m not getting anywhere. I have a difficult time seeing patterns. How do you fare with them?”
“I’m not that good.” Artemis paused here. She twirled her hair around her fingers. I was beginning to think that she did that or traced her tattoo when she was deep in thought.
Eventually Artemis said, “Raven might have more experience in this area.”
I had a feeling that was going to happen because it was true. I had a great amount of experience looking for patterns in criminals’ behavior.
At this moment, I decided to get out and talk to them. I opened the window and started to crawl out on to the seat. Artemis and Perrette let out involuntary noises, which might have indicated surprise. They moved over though, and I managed to pull myself onto the seat.
“Okay, read me the reports,” I told them as I situated myself.
They both faced in my direction. I wondered what they were doing for a while, until I realized they were probably wondering why I was all the sudden joining them after they said one sentence about me.
“I couldn’t sleep,” I told them.
Artemis shrugged, and Perrette then went to hand reports over to me. I didn’t take them though.
“He can’t read,” Artemis quickly informed her.
Perrette then stopped trying to give me the reports. It was quiet, quieter than I would have liked. It always got like that when people learned that I couldn’t read, and it set me on edge when they got strangely quiet.
Eventually I couldn’t take the quiet, so I told them, “Just read the reports out loud to me.”
Perrette and Artemis took turns reading me the reports. I listened and created piles.
For me, the patterns were easy. Some argued that I was an assassin, since most of the criminals I had killed I did it in the same way an assassin would, and I didn’t fight with them there. The thing was that it was easy because I knew about other assassins, since I worked so closely with their field. I knew their patterns and how they worked even though I never met any of them. They probably could do the same with me even though they never had met me.
With that knowledge I was able with the details to narrow down who did what crime. The piles slowly grew. Some of them I knew by the name of the victim who did it.
Within about two hours, we managed to make it through Perrette’s pile. I was thinking about the different piles and the killers there. I was trying to narrow down who I thought would be the culprit.
“Do you mind if we go through all the piles?” Perrette questioned me. “I would like to know what you have to say about each pile.”
I thought about it for a brief moment before I shrugged and answered, “Sure.”
“Okay, going stack by stack then,” Artemis stated. “This first stack has the first victim as Vivian, a middle-aged woman.”
“Discard that pile.”
“That’s the pile I put all the killers that are not contract killers. Just people who most likely did it out of jealousy, hate, rage, money, or other motivations for murder.”
“The first victim in this pile is Philomen,” Perrette told me.
“How was he killed?” I asked.
“Discard that. It was just a few sword incidents that didn’t seem to have any significance. I don’t know anything about that person. When it comes to a possible killer we are looking for a pile that has a mixture of either poison, archery, and/or knives.”
This process continued until there were three piles left. On the piles Perrette would ask me if I knew who the killer was, and most of the time I only knew a name and a few of their habits. I could tell she was cataloging this information for a future date.
“This pile has knives, sword, and archery,” Artemis spoke. “Not a lot of information in this pile because all the deceased are criminals who had the death sentence on them.”
“Discard it,” I told her.
“I take it you know who the killer is for that pile,” Perrette spoke.
“Who is it?” Perrette asked.
I felt a bit reluctant to tell her, but I did anyway. “I did.”
Artemis looked at me and then asked, “So you killed all these people? There’s like about twenty in this pile. It only accounts for Tardon.”
“Why did you think Night Wood got cleared out as well as it did?” I asked. “Plus twelve of those people are the same incident. That’s what happens when a group of dangerous assassins meet together. And, as you said, they were all criminals with the death sentence on them. I stopped them from hurting anyone else ever again. Why do you think The Society of the Concealed Sun wanted me to join? It was because I could go in there and take out the people who needed to be taken out.”
“So why haven’t you just taken out Tark?” Perrette asked.
“Because I’m not an idiot,” I answered. “If I take him out then someone else who is worse can take his place. I wasn’t willing to risk creating a bigger problem. But with Arion here though, I know someone better is going to take his place. It’s safer for the future to go after Tark now.”
“So are you going to kill Tark?” Artemis asked me.
“I’ll try not to,” I found myself answering much to my surprise. “But he may give me no choice.”
For a little bit, I didn’t know why I would want to spare Tark. It didn’t make much sense to me. I then realized that strangely I didn’t want to kill him because it will still cause Arion more pain, so to spare Arion I won’t just kill him straight out. My reasoning, except for the fact that I wanted to spare Arion pain, didn’t shock me. But I didn’t usually go out of my way for others though. I decided to dwell on this fact later.
“Anyway next pile,” I told them.
“This pile has a lot for deaths by being shot by a bow,” Perrette told me.
I nodded and asked, “What were the arrows made out of?”
“Umm,” Artemis began. “They were made out of redwood.”
“Discard that one,” I told them as I shifted position.
“Who is it?” Perrette asked as she went to put it in the rejection pile.
“An assassin by the name Red,” I answered. :He wouldn’t go for someone as high as a king with his work. Plus his work isn’t as sneaky. He just goes and kills people with his redwood arrows, if he’s paid enough money. Last pile now.”
Artemis then told me, “This pile has a mixture of shootings, a couple of poisons, and one person was killed by a knife. This is the pile with the black coins found near the crime scene.”
I then remembered who it was, and then announced, “So, it appears that The Shadow is most likely behind this mess.”
“He’s an assassin that’s been at it for thirteen years now. He leaves a calling card of a black coin near his victims at the places he killed them at. He, like me, tends to go to all places regularly, but I heard he prefers operating in the west, since we are in the west it makes sense. He specializes in archery, knives, and poison. He’s rather good at hiding, maybe almost as good as me. People call him The Shadow because he can hide so well, it’s as if he is a shadow.”
“If he’s so good at hiding then why does he leave a coin at all of his murders?” Perrette asked. It was a good question in my opinion.
“The answer is simply because he wants people to know it’s him that killed those people,” I told her. “When you are in the business of contract killing people are going to only hire you, if you are great and they know you won’t get caught. So by leaving your mark, leaving a black coin, shooting with arrows made from redwood, or whatever it may be, then you build a reputation. That gives you power.”
Perrette folded her arms as she asked, “So what’s your mark?”
“First off, I’m not a contract killer,” I told her. “I don’t simply kill people because others want me to.
“Second, I don’t really have a mark. People just guess about me. They over time realized that dangerous people were being taken out by someone who kills people with the death sentence on them and doesn’t turn them in to collect the award. They try to claim that it’s my mark, killing people but not accepting the award, but that’s not it. I sometimes turn people in and don’t accept the reward. Or I was stopping someone from stealing, and it escalated into a large fight, so I had to kill them to make sure they didn’t hurt anyone.
“To be honest, if I have a mark, it’s only taking out criminals. But that doesn’t really help people know that I did it and get me all the attention some assassins crave for.”
“You just want to go after criminals,” Perrette observed. “You don’t care for the attention, credit, or money. You just do it.”
“Yes, then they can’t hurt anyone else,” I answered.
They sat there for a moment thinking about my chosen career in life. It didn’t sound that great when I talked about it, but it was just what I did. I couldn’t see myself ever doing anything different with my life.
“So you think The Shadow is behind this whole thing?” Perrette eventually asked.
“Yes,” I answered. “I think, but I’ll need to do some more investigating before I can say it’s certainly him.”
“You can do it the day we are there before the coronation. Thank you for your help.”
I then prepared to climb back inside to try to go get some sleep.
I simply answered her by saying, “It’s what I try to do.”
The next day of travel went smoothly. Nothing really happened. It was almost dark when we reached Tardon’s capital city. There was a crowd waiting for Althalos’s return. Arion, Artemis, Shade, and I crouched down, so no one would see us while Althalos, Perrette, and Kallinos got out.
The last bodyguard, and driver most of the time, then drove the carriage to its storage facility. We then hopped out and slipped into the castle. We managed to find the others as someone else found them also.
The woman was on the small and skinny side of the spectrum. Despite her size, I could tell that she carried herself with an authority that screamed don’t mess with me or you’re going to get it. Her aura had a human feel, that wasn’t very powerful but more average. It gave a hint of strong order to the energy though.
“Hello,” she said. “You were due back an hour ago.”
“Nice to see you too, Gaxi,” Kallinos replied.
“Honey, don’t you dare ‘nice see to you’ and other things to put the conversation off the subject. I gave you plenty of time to actually arrive early, and you end up late. So you better explain yourselves because now my whole schedule is off, and your brother is becoming king in less than two days.”
Arion then said, “If you turned around, Gaxi, then you’ll find out.”
She spun around and faced towards Arion with, what I guessed to be, disbelief. I didn’t really see her face, so I wouldn’t know for sure though.
“Okay, someone please tell me what Ranvier’s dead king is doing in our castle,” Gaxi then spoke.
We all went into one of the private sitting rooms and gave her the rundown of our situation.
At the end, she then replied, “Honey, it looks like you’re in a lot of trouble. Well, I’ll just have to make adjustments to the schedule and find you some rooms to sleep in for the next couple of nights.”
“You’re the best, Gaxi,” Althalos told her.
“You better believe it. Now let’s get moving. It’s not everyday a new king is about to be crowned while hiding another king underneath our roof.” She then got up and started to head down the hall while grabbing a servant and giving them orders.
“So who is Gaxi?” I whispered to Arion.
“She is the court advisor,” he answered. “She basically makes sure everything runs smoothly in Tardon.”
I grunted and pointed out, “That’s a rather big job.”
Arion shrugged and told me, “I think she enjoys it. She gets to boss almost everyone around.”
That night Gaxi held true to her word and got us beds to sleep in. The thing was, after years of sleeping on the ground or hard mattresses, the bed was too comfortable for me to fall asleep in. After some uncomfortable attempts of trying it, I just ended up sleeping on the floor instead. Most people would say there was something wrong with me, and they were probably right.
The next day Althalos, Kallinos, and Gaxi were busy running the kingdom. Arion, Artemis, and Shade went to help Kallinos sort through paperwork. When I figured out how many reports he had to sort through, I understood then why he would need some help. It almost seemed like that the whole kingdom was made out of paperwork. Althalos and Gaxi were at a council meeting with Tardon’s high council. Tardon and Ranvier had very similar political systems.
Meanwhile, I held true to my word. I did my own investigation of the deaths of the king and the head of the army. Perrette found my method of searching unusual to say at the very least. Literally, all she saw was I standing at the scenes. She couldn’t see how I was using my senses of touch and hearing to investigate every inch of the scenes. At the recently deceased king’s chambers and the spot the army head fell I found nothing.
“Next let’s head to the kitchen,” I told her.
“The kitchen?” Perrette asked, clearly confused.
I started to walk off as I explained, “If he managed to kill them by poison, then that’s technically the spot he’ll kill them at, so he’ll leave his mark there.”
Perrette didn’t argue with me, but instead followed me to the kitchen, that I already knew where it was at.
You’d expect the kitchen to be cramped and very crowded, but instead everyone had their spot and they seemed to just stick to it. I could move easily through the place.
I cast out my sense and then felt that some coins were underneath a counter right near the doorway. I then bent down to pick it up.
“Well, it looks like you found two black coins there,” Perrette told me.
I simply nodded in agreement before following Perrette as she made her way to the records to make sure that the black coins I found matched the ones that were left at the other murders. It didn’t take her long to confirm that they were matches.
Since she had solid evidence that there was trouble in Tardon, she went to tell Althalos immediately. I followed behind her because I helped her find the evidence, and I had the most information on the killer out of all of them. Unless Arion somehow knew a lot about assassins, but I couldn’t be sure about that.
Perrette reached the room that Althalos was in. I noted that Arion was in there too. Instead of knocking before entering, she just opened the door and walked in. I was a little surprised that someone would just walk in on their boss, especially when they were meeting with someone. After thinking through it, I decided that, as his personal bodyguard, she probably was used to being around Althalos a lot, so it probably wasn’t as strange as I thought it was.
I quietly followed Perrette in the room. She stood at the edge behind where Althalos and Arion were sitting, waiting for her charge to finish his conversation before reporting to him.
“When exactly did tensions start up between you and Ranvier?” Arion asked him.
“After we thought you had passed, things were relatively calm for the first seven or eight months that you were supposedly dead,” Althalos told me. “When I talked to Tark right after you were announced as dead, it felt a little off, but I just wrote it off as grief at the time.”
“Understandable,” Arion murmured. “So then about six months ago, what exactly happened?”
“I got a report that one of my patrols was attacked,” Althalos explained. “My men said that they were Tardon when some of Ranvier’s guards randomly attacked them. When Ranvier said their side of it, they claimed that my men went over the border to Ranvier’s land, so the soldiers did their job back attacking and injuring my men. We investigated but there was no way to figure out exactly who was correct since the fight took place so close to the border, part of it happened on one side and another on the other side. Not even the warlocks and enchantresses I have working for me could make out what happened there.”
“That’s peculiar,” Arion whispered as he started tapping his fingers. “But that fits in with my guess that Tark has someone with powerful magic working with him.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case,” Althalos commented. “How would you deal with them? I don’t think you or … Artemis, yes Artemis, could take them out. I’m not sure about the scary looking elf. He might be able to take them out.”
Arion straightened up in his chair and said, “Wait, you think Raven looks scary?”
“Whenever I’m around him, I have a feeling that if he wanted me dead, I would be brutally murdered before I could even lift a finger,” Althalos gravely whispered as he lowered in his seat. “I don’t need to be a fighting expert to know that. It doesn’t help that he’s around seven feet tall.”
Arion shrugged and stated, “I’ve probably been around him so much that I don’t even notice it anymore. So what happened after that incident six months ago?”
Althalos paused a little before answering, “For a few weeks, nothing happened. Then it happened again with one of our citizens. They were attacked and said to be in Ranvier’s side, even though it was unclear if they actually were. Then it sporadically kept happening over the last few months. Ranvier soldiers kept claiming that Tardon’s people were invading their lands, but we aren’t sure if that was the actual case or not. Tark was making demands for us to stay out of Ranvier’s borders, or he’ll have to take further action against us.”
“What did you do in response?” Arion questioned.
’We increased security and tried to keep our patrols and people away from the border by at least a half mile,” Althalos replied. “It worked at times, but at other times it didn’t. This continued on for a few months. Then one of the incidents we finally were able to find some trace of magic at the scene. We could barely find it, but it was there.
“I went in person and presented the information to Tark and informed him that his troops shouldn’t attack our troops until further investigation took place. Once I presented it, he got up and left the room without saying a word. I was confused to say the least.
“After a few minutes, he entered back in and told me that they would look into it on their end and allow us to look into it on our end. He asked that we didn’t make it common knowledge, so that if people were behind this they wouldn’t be able to tell that we were looking into them. I wanted to resolve this as peacefully as possible, so I agreed.”
“What had affairs been like ever since?” Arion questioned.
“Tense but no attacks. We still have high security and keep a lookout, but nothing has broken out yet. It’s been like this from a little before my father fell ill.”
“Your father died at a rather inconvenient time,” Arion grumbled.
“That’s putting it nicely,” Althalos replied. “I think Perrette is looking into it. If she’s looking into it, I don’t think I’ll be surprised if there’s something off with this whole mess.”
“There definitely is,” Perrette then told him. Althalos and Arion nearly jumped out of their chairs.
After a pause, Althalos told her, “I don’t mind you just entering, but, for the sake of my heart remaining healthy, please do something to tell me that you are entering the room.”
“Sorry,” Perrette replied. “I will make sure to do that in the future.”
“So, what new information do you have about King Orwell’s death, and its significance?” Arion inquired.
Perrette then informed Arion and Althalos of our discoveries. She was clear and thorough. She answered any questions they had. There was no need for me to say anything, so I didn’t. When she finished, they sat there and thought for a moment.
Althalos asked, “Why do you think that Tark is doing it right now? I mean you would think he had enough on his plate already with Arion’s escape.”
“That’s not my area of expertise,” Perrette commented. “I do believe it’s Raven’s though.”
“Well,” I started. “Tark’s first plan of border disputes breaking out into a larger fight didn’t work, so he would have to get another plan. I think that the king’s death involved a lot of planning. It must have been thought out months ago and set in motion as soon as Althalos had some evidence that the border disputes were due to foul play.”
Arion then commented, “Tark only knew for certain that I escaped when we broke into the vaults and saw what we stole. We broke in thirty-eight days ago (not including today). Let’s say two days to reach the vault and see what happened so that will be thirty-six days ago he realized I broke out. King Orwell passed eight days ago. I take it that the late King Orwell was feeling unwell for several weeks before his death.”
“About three and a half weeks before his death,” Althalos answered. “It didn’t seem serious, but apparently it was.”
“So, when you consider all the factors Tark would only have three days to tell The Shadow to postpone the plans until further notice in order to more fully focus on me,” Arion broke down for us. “It’s impossible to deliver a message by then unless you use magic. But, in order to do so, both people will have to have magic, or you would have to use a magic that is very easy to spot and would give away The Shadow, thus making it impossible for him to strike after that because Tardon will be on the lookout for him. The conclusion is that it was too late to stop the plan, so Tark had no choice but to go forward with it, despite the inconvenient time for him.”
I was going to say something along those lines. I admit though that I didn’t have the entire math figured out in my head already like he was able to do on the spot.
Then I shuddered at the thought that I’ve been at that job for sixty days at that point (including today). I’ve been two months basically without my solitude. I thought that the scary thing was I didn’t notice it had been that long.
Althalos then asked, “Do you have any idea when this Shadow will strike next?”
I paused a minute before answering by saying, “If I were going to commit these acts for a king trying to start a war, I would want the kingdom not only to lose its leaders but also to lose confidence in itself. Such an opportune time will present itself, say during the coronation ceremony of the next king. If he were to be assassinated during the ceremony, that would cause trouble.
“I would put some vague evidence then that sort of suggested Ranvier but not quite. Then Tardon would want to investigate the murders of their kings. But Ranvier could refuse on vague evidence, giving both territories enough motive to declare war on each other, leading to an all out fight.”
A silence settled over the group as what I told them settled in.
“Kallinos would be next in line for the throne, won’t he?” Arion asked.
Althalos nodded and then told us, “Kallinos is a great man, but he’s no war leader. I don’t even know if he can handle being king. He’s not firm enough in his stances, easily persuaded. And Tardon will not win that war anyway. Ranvier has greater numbers and stability both politically and economically. In short, it would be a disastrous war for Tardon, and then Tark would have two kingdoms under his control.”
“Well, I think the answer to our problem is simple,” Perrette commented.
“And what is this answer?” Althalos asked.
“You’re not dying,” she bluntly stated.
Althalos slumped a little in his chair as he asked, “And how are you going to insure that?”
I then told them, “The first course of action to do is find where The Shadow intends to kill you from. By now he would have picked a place and knows his way there and back.”
“What then?” Arion questioned.
“Depending on how many people can hide in the area, we wait and then strike him when he comes to do the kill.”
“Why not just move the ceremony to a different place?” Perrette questioned.
I then informed her that, “You might as well should scream in town square everything you know about his plan. The Shadow will realize that you know his plan and then find some other place to strike Tardon at. With this, you could stop him once and for all.”
“Can you find the place he’ll strike at?” Althalos questioned me.
“Most likely,” I answered. “But it’s not an exact science.”
“Well, we better get started on it right away then,” Althalos murmured.
Althalos then faced Arion and quietly asked, “Did you have to deal with crazy things like this when you became king?”
“Just some idiots you thought they could be in charge,” Arion answered.
“How did you deal with them?” Althalos inquired.
“I showed them which one of us had the power, stubbornness, and brains to get what he wanted,” Arion told him. “Eventually they all fell in line, like they should have in the first place.”
As we walked out of the room, Althalos murmured underneath his breath, “How can you say that like it’s no big deal?”
Arion didn’t hear, so he didn’t answer. Instead we went to figure out how to stop an assassin from killing their next target.
For the next few hours, I was in the room where the ceremony was going to take place. I analyzed every single spot I could think of to kill the king at. Most would be inconvenient spots to shoot at because there would be things obscuring the view. Others that gave a clear shot didn’t have a clear escape route. I went through every nook and cranny in the room but I couldn’t find anywhere inside the room that was ideal for an assassination.
I then turned to Kallinos who was inside the room with me as a thought occurred to me.
“How high would you say those windows up there are?” I asked.
“About fifteen yards,” he answered.
I ran out the door as I murmured, “That’s what I was thinking.”
Within no time, I managed to find the courtyard. I could easily tell where the wall to the coronation room was outside. I walked up to it and was able to find plenty of handholds allowing me to scale the wall easily.
Kallinos, meanwhile, was, at first, confused by my actions. But he stopped asking me questions which made me think that he got the picture.
Once I got to the ledge with the windows, I walked along searching for an opening. When I got to one of the windows, I found a pane that could easily slip out. I slipped it out and then judged my distance.
About two hundred yards separated me from the spot that Althalos would be crowned at. It was a clear line for shooting. I remembered, when learning how to shoot a longbow, I practiced until I eventually gained great accuracy at three hundred yards. If The Shadow had anywhere near the same range of shooting as I did, then he could make that shot easily. I found the most likely location for the assassin’s spot. All I had to do then was make sure that The Shadow never left another coin again.
The next day I was crouched in one of the nooks of the wall. The coronation was just starting. The night before there was a huge discussion about what the plan of action should be. It was decided that there wasn’t any room to have a large party to wait for The Shadow to come.
Eventually it was decided that I would be the only one to wait for The Shadow. Mostly because I was the only one who could squeeze up there and remain hidden. Which was kind of funny, speaking how I was taller than every single one of them. In the end, I realized that Perrette could have squeezed up here too in tiger form, but when she was up here her heart rate and breathing were so off, it made me think that she couldn’t handle being up high.
As the ceremony started, I waited for The Shadow to show up. I checked myself: heartbeat regular, breathing steady, and I had my longbow, arrows, sword, and two knives.
The previous night, I got a pair of knives from Gaxi who managed to find some. They were well-crafted by elves. I took it that she remembered either Artemis or Arion mentioning I traded my knives, so she decided to get me some. Even though I still was missing ten knives out of my usual twelve, it was comforting to have them. The knives were very similar to my first knives that I traded, which made me think that the same person made them.
I didn’t know how long I crouched there when I could hear soft footsteps along the rooftop and felt the vibrations of someone walking up there.
I made sure I stayed hidden as he climbed down the side of the building. I found myself admiring his speed and stealth. If I wasn’t a dark elf, there was no way I could have known he was coming without seeing him. He was very impressive for someone who wasn’t a dark elf. At that high up, there was no way anyone was going to notice him.
As he climbed down I was able to tell that he was human and get a sense of his body type. He was around average height but skinny. I could tell that he was strong though; whatever meat he had was muscle.
I estimated that I would be able to get a clear shot at him when he reached the windowsill.
Just seconds before he touched down I sprang out, aimed my bow and fired an arrow at him as he touched down.
Unfortunately for me, he was looking my way. So he dived down in order to miss it. The arrow passed right over his head.
As he was diving down, he threw a knife my way. I dropped my bow to the side and then caught the knife. Something I learned how to do with long practice. I then threw it back at him as he was getting up. I took out my two knives. He caught his knife then.
I analyzed myself: heartbeat was regular but breathing was getting a bit deeper. I willed my breathing to become more regular as I raised my knives up.
The Shadow managed to come towards me as he was getting up. I blocked one of his knife strikes with my right knife as I swung my left knife towards his throat. He managed to block it though.
We continued to try to strike the other while protecting ourselves for about a minute. Sometimes we would manage to scrape the other. He got me on my right hand. I got him on his left shoulder.
Then The Shadow decided to try the tactic of talking to distract the other side.
“How did you find out about the assassination?” he questioned me.
Quickly I decided to engage and to try and say something to mess him up.
“Well, The Shadow, in our business word tends to get around of who is who and where they like to strike,” I answered while blocking another stroke. I aimed for his head.
“Then how come I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of you?” he asked, trying to get on my nerves. He blocked my stroke and countered with another.
“The thing is you have,” I told him while I blocked his stroke. Our blades ended up locked for a moment. “I just don’t try to make myself known like you do. I’m behind the Blood Plain, eighteen of the incidents in Night Wood, the River of Blood, and more. I defeated Boethius.”
We then disengaged. I threw one of my knives at him. He went to dodge it as I pulled out my sword with my left hand. He dodged the knife as I came forward with an overhand stroke with my sword. The Shadow then used both of his knives to stop it. He was successful with that.
However, he didn’t see the knife in my right hand that I had grabbed until it was too late. I stabbed him in the left lung.
He then fell back.
The last thing The Shadow whispered was, “So, you’re Darkest.”
He then laid still to never be able to move again. The Shadow lost to Darkest.
As I felt the blood on my hands, I emotionally felt a feeling I didn’t think I normally felt. It was anger.
Later, after the coronation was over, Arion was the first to find me. I was in a dark room sitting by myself. He just stood by the doorway at first. Then he walked into the room and sat down in the chair across from me.
I was sitting there thinking about my thoughts and feelings lately. They had been so confusing for me. I had a problem, but I didn’t know what it was.
After a few minutes, Arion told me, “Althalos is still alive. So I take it you succeeded.”
All I did was nod slightly.
“That’s good,” he whispered. “Now Tark can focus solely on us.”
There was another pause of silence until he told me, “Thanks, Raven.”
I then let silence fill the air until I shattered it by commenting, “It’s what I do.”
Silence once again filled the room and neither of us broke it until it was time for us to leave.
Four and a half days later Althalos, Perrette, Kallinos, and Gaxi were dropping us off right at the edge of Tardon’s border.
Arion was giving them all firm handshakes and pats on the back as he was saying farewell to them and thanking them for their help. Artemis was trying hard but unsuccessfully not to cry as she spoke her farewells. Shade was whimpering during the whole ordeal. Meanwhile I just hung awkwardly in the back. I hated farewells. I’ve always found them to be a nuisance.
Perrette then walked up to me, seeming to be as awkward as I was. She simply held out her hand, and we shook on it. She then walked off. Althalos, Kallinos, and Gaxi also gave me handshakes with their farewells.
Then they headed off to the fief, and we went into Elfish Territory. I didn’t even care because I had gotten so used to moving on.