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Afterglow

By Emily C. W All Rights Reserved ©

Mystery / Fantasy

Prologue

The candle danced in the dense blackness, disturbed solely by the breaths of those inhabiting the vast dimensions of the room. The sounds of deep, even breathing reverberated loudly off of the stone walls, alluding to the sleeping form obscured by the darkness. The candle’s dim, flickering glow only crept so far, casting monstrous shadows about the walls.

Standing against the far wall, the assassin remained still, waiting for undeniable proof that his target was, indeed, asleep; mind carefully, obediently blank, aside from the task at hand. As nothing disrupted the sounds, the assassin crept halfway through the room, making quick work of dousing the sole light source. With the room cast in darkness, he raised his unsheathed sword above his head, calculating the distance between the edge of his blade, and the pale skin. With just the right amount of strength, he swung low, ending the soft snores, his mission, and the life of the target all in one swipe.

Without emotion or pause, he crossed the room once more, escaping out of the open window and into the night, back to his employer. He stole quickly through the empty streets, sneaking along the walls of buildings as he passed the occasional drunk leaving the taverns too late, and stumbling their way home through the dark. Turning into a side alley, and through the wooden door he found there, the assassin entered the warmth of the hearth brightened room at the back of a modest inn.

The lord that had employed him was seated in front of the blazing fire, and turned to the assassin as he made his entrance. The harsh cold of the winter night blew through the rapidly diminishing space between the door and its jamb, causing the flames in the hearth to flicker unstably. The heavy wooden door fell shut with raucous harshness.

The lord made no move to speak as the assassin stared with unabashed, unwavering focus. Finally, the assassin cleared his throat.

“My Lord?” His voice was loud in the otherwise uninterrupted near-silence.

“The Lady that commissioned your services is most happy with the outcome of to-night’s assignment,” the man spoke with a carefully emotionless tone. “She has instructed me to pay you your dues, and see to it that we are never in contact again.”

The assassin nodded once in understanding. The lord stood from his chair, digging through the inner pockets of his robe and producing a velvet pouch that fit within his fist, and tossed it to the assassin. With a brief look over the contents of the small pouch, he bowed his head to the lord and backed out the door into the frozen night once more.

As he made his way back toward the main road, he detected the movement behind him just a moment too late. The attacker was quiet for his size, moving with a silent grace that should have been impossible with his bulk. His body twitched in anticipation of dodging the oncoming attack, but his reaction was too slow. The searing pain came before he registered the glinting silver of the short sword that stuck out of his chest and was then wrenched upward.

The assailant drew the iron weapon back, and the now soulless vessel, without anything to support it, fell forward. The snow around the fallen body was steadily coloring red, the thicker liquid mixing with and melting the frozen powder. The door to the inn opened with a creak, the orange glow of the firelight spilling from the entryway and casting dancing shadows along the walls. The lord stepped forward, his mouth twisted in a disgusted sneer at the sight before him. He approached the body of the assassin as his bodyguard backed away. Using the toe of his boot, he turned the man onto his back. The lifeless eyes stared fixed at a point in the sky among the stars.

“I am sorry, friend, but my Lady’s orders were very specific,” he said to the corpse. He bent down and rifled through the pockets of the man’s cloak, retrieving the familiar velvet pouch and passing it to his guard. “You have my gratitude for your assistance, Theo.”

The bulky man grunted in reply and bowed his head, his deep voice reverberating within the confined space. “It is my duty, my Lord.”

﴾ • ﴿

The morning after, a piercing scream became the wakeup call for each person residing in the Leith residence. Upon entering her master’s chamber, the timid servant girl, hired barely a week before, had thought the man was sleeping peacefully. As she approached the bed, the distinct rusty smell of blood reached her, slid down her throat and churned her stomach. Fear gripped her with an iron fist as she drew back the heavy bedclothes, and that was when she found the dark red blood, soaked into the bed sheets and the mattress, already drying.

As she screamed and backed out of the room, servants, guests, and family came running to see what was happening. Later, she would be informed while consoling her mistress, of the nature of Master Leith’s death. Her mistress would be wracked with sobs and pure grief, retiring to her room to be found later with slit wrists. The servant girl would be thrown back on the streets and forced to wander until her early demise just weeks later, she would freeze to death in her sleep out in the winter nights.
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