There are two kinds of people in this world: the ones who would die for you, and the ones who would kill for you. Anish learned which one he belonged to quicker than he would have liked. And which one his parents belonged to.
After he watched his parents die in his stead he fled the village he had once called home. Scared and for the first time truly alone in the world. Mourning the loss of everything but the clothes on his person and the necklace his mother had given him on his birthday just a month previous. Angry enough to succumb to bursts of blind rage and burning tears at the picture of the messengers from the capital bringing death and destruction to his life. But at least he was alive.
He spent weeks and months in the woods, living off the greens and anything he could get his hands on. It was a series of trial and error for him, having lived comfortably all his short life he had barely any experience with the wild, and it was the few things his father had taught him kept him alive. When the air grew colder his hideout in the forest not far from Jikaka, one of the larger trading villages in western Narusa, couldn’t keep him warm. The berries disappeared and the ground became cold and hard, then the river froze over and everything was covered in white. The only thing left for him in order to survive was to get money for supplies.
There was an inn about a day from Jikaka, just far enough for travellers to have to stay the night before making the final journey to the village, and Anish used that to his favour. He sneaked into the stables after last watch each night and left before first light, making sure to pay a visit to the saddlebags when he needed. It kept him alive for most of the winter and it was a fairly good life, considering the alternative.
It was a few weeks before the dawn of spring that he met Vimal, the man who would turn his life around completely. Vimal was a man of about thirty summers but possessed a mind far older, and scars like spider webs. He arrived at the inn early one morning, on foot, and caught Anish sneaking out. He grabbed him by the arm and rattled the coins out of his pockets without a word. Before Anish was able to make his escape Vimal’s gaze pinned him to the spot.
‘Why do you take what is not yours?’ Vimal asked. ‘Speak, boy.’
Anish stuttered until Vimal raised a brow at him. ‘I only take to survive, sir.’
There was an amused twitch of Vimal’s lips. ‘No need to call me “sir”,’ he said and crouched down, gathering the coins in his hands. ‘I count enough for two horses. A bit more than to just survive, would you not say?’
‘I take rarely. And only from those who have much.’
‘You speak like a learned one,’ Vimal commented.
‘My mother,’ Anish began but quickly bit his tongue. A flash of his mother sitting at the large desk in her family’s library, with books in heaps around her, teaching him his letters patiently with a smile.
Vimal nodded. ‘I see. Well, boy, you will do some errands for me.’
‘Or should I call the lawman?’ he asked and smirked when Anish bit his lip. ‘I thought not. Come along,’ he said and strode away, forcing Anish to jog to keep up.
Vimal stayed at the inn for a week and Anish had few moments off his feet. He did what he was told, no matter what Vimal asked of him. His first task had been easy enough: clean all of Vimal’s clothes and bring him supper before sundown.
He was used for target practice. Anish spent a morning dodging arrows in the forest, sprinting back and forth at top speed. Vimal had marked two trees a fair distance apart that Anish wasn’t allowed to pass, unless he wished to anger the older man. At first the arrows barely missed him, tearing his already worn clothes and cutting his skin just enough to draw blood. The longer time that passed, however, the easier it became to avoid them. When the nearby trees were covered in arrows drilled into their trunks Vimal relaxed his stance and lowered the bow.
‘Good, you have stopped thinking too much,’ he said with a nod. ‘Collect the arrows before you eat.’
Another day Anish spent clearing a nearby stream from obstructing rocks. He was knee-deep in water that had been frozen just two weeks ago and carrying slippery stones almost as heavy as himself. As Anish was near finished Vimal told him to carry the rocks to the inn, so the innkeeper could use them as construction material. So he did, all the while Vimal sat comfortably on a stool and overseeing his work.
One evening after sunset Vimal called him down to the garden behind the inn.
‘A cat is stuck on the roof,’ he said. ‘Get it down.’
Anish looked at him oddly but nodded nonetheless. He headed back towards the inn but stopped mid-step when Vimal spoke up again.
‘Without using the stairs.’
‘How am I to reach the cat then?’ Anish asked.
Vimal simply smirked at him and sat down on one of the benches facing the inn. Anish stood staring at the facade towering over him for a long time. In the end he took a deep breath and grabbed the windowpane of the closest window, and began to climb.
Later that night Anish sat in the room Vimal had gotten him, staring at the cuts on his hands. They stung and bled when he moved his fingers. He sat like that for a long time, simply staring at them. Mind racing and memoires of the past year flashing.
His body moved on its own. It was not until he stood before Vimal’s door that his mind caught up to him. He froze with his hand meant to knock hovering above the wooden surface. Taking a deep breath he calmed his nerves and let his fist make contact with the door.
‘Come.’ Vimal was seated on his bed, cleaning a blade. ‘Look not so shocked, Anish, I think you figured out what I do a long time ago.’
‘A killer for hire.’
‘Much more than that, boy. I do more than just kill.’
Anish swallowed harshly. ‘Teach me.’
Vimal raised his head and rested the knife on his lap. ‘You ask to join my kind? It is not as easy as you think.’
‘I saw my parents murdered and I have survived alone in the forest for almost a year. Joining you can only be an improvement.’
‘I would not be so sure. It takes more than that to survive in my line of occupation.’
‘I have affinity for it. All the tests you devised I have passed.’
‘That may be true. You passed more easily than I had expected, but that does not mean you are fit for it. Why do you want me to teach you?’
‘I am good at it.’
‘I need it.’
‘I want it.’
Anish paused. ‘With the skills of your trade I can make sure to never be put in that situation again.’
‘Better. Are all your motives selfish?’
‘If I can protect myself, I can help others.’
‘You would give your life for others?’
Anish clenched his teeth. ‘I will not give my own. I will take the one who threatens them.’