The Half Light

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[3.0] - The Makings of a Spy

~ The Makings of a Spy ~

The year 2034 post bellum
Twelve weeks till Moonset Equinox

Aryial pulled the shadows around herself, pressing into the darkness of the roof. There were few things that she was exceptionally good at, but she thought herself an expert when it came to blending in.

Her teacher was ruthless in her teachings and had given her an earful just last week over how her skills had not improved. To discipline her, Evhanna made her run a lap around the entire city.

It had taken her all day.

To avoid a similar punishment again, Aryial snuck out each night to practice her cloak-and-dagger skills; spying, wraith walking, shadow bending, tailing people, pick-pocketing.

Practising had all of the thrill and none of the watching and waiting of a normal reconnaissance. It took up the majority of her time now that Ivan was so busy. She hadn’t seen him in weeks.

She scanned the street, illuminated by lanterns lit tolls ago, looking for a practice target to tail.

There were all the people that usually found themselves among the streets at night, wealthy men looking for entertainment, soldiers heading to the taverns, and drunk men who had left some party, often with women on their arms.

She picked out a group of soldiers, observing their stances and how they walked, trying to figure out which of them was the leader. Her answer came when one of the men waved his hand forward and the rest all followed.

Aryial prepared herself to jump off the roof to follow them just as they turned left into a large house. The house was notorious for holding card games with the most ridiculous stakes.

She hesitated, debating whether she wanted to sneak into the house and watch them play cards or pick another target to follow.

Her favourite part of all this was the hiding in shadows and following them in the dark like a nighthawk which she wouldn’t be able to do if she was just watching them play cards, but she probably did need to sharpen her observation skills.

Paying attention to who slipped cards to who, or reading the body language of the players to expose their intentions and moves would be a good exercise.

In annoyance, Aryial quietly lowered herself off the roof onto a windowsill, continuing to lower herself until she was on the ground, following the men into the house.

Tables were set around a room, piles of gold and other valuables sitting in front of each player. The room was noisy enough that Aryial slipped in without a single person noticing – though she’s sure she could’ve done that even if it was quiet.

The soldiers sat at one of the few empty tables, and the croupier dealt out the cards. Aryial watched their expressions carefully, watched any unconscious body movements or hidden smiles, anything that could tell her their cards.

By the end of the game, she had predicted almost every move, missing only the one time when one of the men put down a King of hearts when she was expecting diamonds.

Aryial stayed for two more rounds, testing herself on some different people before she got bored.

She sat in the corner, flipping a single gold coin in the air and keeping an eye trained on whichever card game she was monitoring.

Her legs were propped up on a table and she was back in her chair, the other arm behind her head. A while ago, she had chosen comfort over secrecy and had taken a seat, though she wasn’t careless enough to forget her makeshift mask – a simple black cloth that she tied over the lower half of her face so that only her eyes were visible.

To the gamblers’ credit, it hadn’t taken them too long to notice the woman observing in the corner. Nobody dared to near her though, many of the gamblers had debts to dangerous people, and contracted killers were paid to retrieve the debt often enough that the players knew to mind their own business.

Aryial wasn’t a contracted killer, but she didn’t mind playing the part. One of the first lessons of acting is that people generally made their own assumptions. They did half the work by deceiving themselves, all Aryial had to do was go along with their assumptions.

So, if they think she’s a killer, then tonight, she’ll play the part of a cruel, heartless murderer.

A random man lingered at the back of the room, his eyes flicking nervously between Aryial and the door. She rolled her eyes.

Idiot. Well, I guess this is my way out.

Aryial’s boots scraped against the floor as she stood up, drawing attention to herself. After all, she might as well play the part till the end.

The man took one look at Aryial, making her way towards him, and fled to the door.

Everything seemed to pause as the gamblers in the room tried to act as if they weren’t paying attention. One of them used the distraction to swap cards with his partner from across the table.

Aryial rolled her shoulders and followed after the man. “I guess he has some serious debt,” she muttered darkly to herself.

The street outside was exactly as it was when she left. The darkness flirting with the moon and the air silent save for certain drunk individuals.

Aryial shouldn’t start a fight tonight, but her body itched to do something. Her eyes roves the streets for somebody interesting to tail, perhaps she should choose another street.

Before she moved to another street, her skin prickled. She was missing something.

Her gaze took another look around her, carefully searching through the shadows made by the houses lining the street.

She almost overlooked the men dawdling near a building. Almost.

But a flash of light from a match used to light their cigars illuminated their faces enough for Aryial’s gaze to linger.

Those men. She saw them earlier, drunk as sailors who hadn’t seen rum in years, tripping over their own feet and entertaining an entire group of women between the four of them.

But, here they were, stone-cold sober. Aryial frowned. They must have put up a front to fool those women into going wherever they wanted.

Her stomach sunk as Aryial realised the implications of what happened to those women.

Ithivia wasn’t like the peaceful Elven kingdoms where women were respected for their gift to carry and give life. Here, there were always men who preyed on the weak, tricking the gullible and taking advantage of every situation they could.

Aryial’s hands tightened against the hilt of the dagger sheathed in her boot. The men outside were definitely watchmen. For as much as they tried to blend in, she was observant enough to see how they had their backs to the door of the building, to see their hands constantly brush over the places where Aryial had no doubt their weapons were concealed.

They were guarding whatever was happening behind that door, and as much as Aryial wanted to save those women, she knew she couldn’t.

The night grew darker and the streets vacated but still, Aryial stayed, watching the door and the men. She was starting to think she assumed wrongly, that something worse was going on, but two more men emerged from the building and the group of bastards wandered away.

Aryial waited all night, her eyes fixed on the building until the sun rose steadily from its slumber.

The women never came out.

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