By Jenny Dickinson
The last glow of the sunset faded from dusky blue to deep rich violet on the horizon across the broad bay. Up the beach in the distance, the lights of sprawling N'rah twinkled like a cloud of fireflies against the backdrop of the Mijar forest.
In this gentle, failing light, the pale skinned Shadowdancer males sprawled comfortably around a fire in a sheltered cradle of trees might have been mistaken for a group of merchants's sons smoking sweet Ah'har'i and sharing tales away from the summer heat inside the city's walls.
All of them, save a lanky, feline-like youth, who commanded his companions' attention just now. Tonight it was his turn to amuse the group.
"The BEST assassin I ever knew?" Fourteen pairs of blue and red glimmering eyes followed the young foreigner who called himself Chalyn - in their tongue, "stranger."
A frown creased the soft furry brow of Chalyn as he tossed another bit of deadwood upon the fire and settled back against the fallen log he was using as a backrest. His large cat-like feet sprawled to each side of his rump as he sat, tail twitching as he spoke again. "I'm not sure I wish to talk of that."
"Come ON Chalyn!" his companions urged, offering fresh wine for his cup, and a pull on the Ah'har'i pipe. What performer didn't like a little coaxing now and again?
This new guild mate of theirs was a fine assassin, with a cat-like face to match his silent approaches and attacks. He had no living rival among this guild, and the guild master made sure he had none better at his back. He had a voice of a darkangel, and a strange beauty to match, that somehow had all their women falling left and right for him. He had his morals, and his marks from street fights, but he was definitely going to be with this guild a good long time.
"Alright... alright... you win... I'll tell it," he said, raising up the clawed hand that did not bear his cup in mild supplication.
Fourteen pairs of eyes, and fourteen ears were intent on Chalyn as he began his tale. There was magic in his words, and mayhaps that was what had bewitched their female Guild Master so.
"The best Assassin I knew called himself Shadow's Child." The group scoffed at this a little, thinking it merely a jest. "S'true! I met him, and it was the fashion to call yourself SOMETHING where I came from. I myself was known as the N'rah Cat, we also had Mizra the Spider, and Greyhawk, and Maggie the Mouse. This is partly his tale, partly mine, and also, partly that of those who were intwined into it."
They chuckled over this history of an old dead guild, but remained intentive on their storyteller.
He waited for them to settle down, and started his tale at last.
"I was the get of a whore and whomever she spawned me with, dumped on the streets nearly too young to remember her to curse her name. My tale would've ended there, had I not met paths with a thief who took me in. He went by the name of Yutari, and it was he who taught me to be a cut-purse, a swindler, and many other things. I was about twenty when he died. He'd been shoved off a rooftop on a job, and fell in such a way as to break his neck.
"So with his death, I found it harder to make my own way, since at that time, N'rah had no thieving guild. So the long and short of things for the next seven-odd years was that I was beaten, pilloried, starved, and at times, I even whored myself out just to fill my belly. It wasn't a pleasant thing... and I thought this was all I could look forward to in my sorry life. Not until one night, when some bloody half-drunken dandy dragged me out into an alley to have his way with me. Whether I wanted or not.
"I resisted something fierce, and he slapped me about. Had he hit me like a man, I 'd have responded in kind, but I believe it was simply that he'd started slapping me like a tavern wench or a threepenny tart who deserved such treatment, that made me draw steel. I saw red, and by the end of things, the dandy was dead, and I was quite a goodly sum richer. The second time I drew steel on anyone, it was with a bigger youth over a purse I'd taken. I didn't kill him, but I ended his thieving days by cutting up his arm badly. After that, I was approached by a guildsman and he asked me to... 'join the choir' as it were. So, knowing what I was getting into at the time, I said yes.
"So, I talked often with the Master, who was like me, a Greymalkin. He was a full hundred years older, and a full four feet taller than I. He treated me to a good room, good food, and even gave me fine clothing, like a merchant's son, and took me around to the plays, and the operas and concerts and things. He was like a father to me, and if ever I loved a man, it was he. I would have walked over hot coals for him, though he would never ask it of me. He and I were as thick as thieves in a bazaar. Strange though, how we'd both decided that we'd slay no women, and no children. Mind you, there wasn't much call for killing children anyways. But the few times we needed to, it was Mizar the Spider who took up the task. But that wasn't the point of the tale. She was good, but not the best. The best by far was Shadow's Child. He was the get of a Naldaine and a Shadowdancer, thin and lanky but with the strength to crush a panthergiest's throat in his hands.
"Oh, we called him Crow when he signed on, but he stilled preferred his old moniker from time to time. And he killed, anything but children. In fact, the boss left it to me to keep Domina Mizar and Crow Syk apart. Simply because Crow could not abide a child-killer, and Master Nemesis feared that they'd fight, and Mizar would end up dead for it. They had a fierce rivalry, those two.
"The only thing that seemed to tame Crow's fire, was a woman named Payne Wong. Pure Naldaine she was, and like Crow, had a taste for S&M in their cuddling and sex. I myself never went for it, but I didn't mind the clingy nature Naldaines had. After all, being clannish, everyone was family of a sort, and grown men hugging and clasping wrists and kissing cheeks was as common as in one's own household... even if the two men carrying on as such were strangers in the streets. At the time, I was still a kitten, and Crow and Payne were in their prime. They'd offed Adeneans as well as their own kind for years before they entered the Guild, and I'd only had a few jobs of my own since I started, mostly as lookout, and message runner for the other members. But Crow, he was strange... and diffrent. He was always happy after a kill, and Payne and he either went out on the same jobs as partners... or Crow went out alone. It wasn't until later on that the master had me work with him, but I hadn't expected a winter of it.
"It snowed deeply, all the way up to the second floors, and Parasyte, another guildster, who loved killing like a miser loves money, told me as much. I hadn't a clue what to do, other than suggest he kill without contract, and by goddess Tanar'ri, he'd better toss the bodies in the bay, with rocks on... or Nemesis would see him taken down for his stupidity. Crow and I worked fairly well with each other, even if he liked to make a cut along the chest of the target, and drink a little of thier blood. I assumed at first that it was merely a tribal thing amoungst his folk, and neither I nor the master thought anything of it. Durning that harsh winter, we lost Mizra the Spider. Everyone thought the cold got to her and she'd moved to a warmer place... or that the cold had simply killed her, as she was one of the few who did not stay at the guildhouse. Nobody knew or thought anything of Crow, or Parasyte, or Domina. Not until spring thaw.
"When the ice melted on the bay, and the rains washed away the dirty snow, the bodies started to turn up. All underprivileged, all above the ages of twenty... men, women, and children just barely into adolescence. Nobody knew what to do, until the guard came, and demanded Crow's arrest.
"I went myself to see some of the bodies with the master, and each one was drained of blood, with a cut upon their breastbones. Crow's mark. The mark of Shadow's Child. The same person... the same killer. Master had no choice, despite Crow's pleas of innocence. All the while, Parasyte giggled, and Domina remained missing.
"They'd impaled Crow, trying to get him to give all the guild's names away... and as punishment for the murders. Aside from me and Payne, only Parasyte had been partnered with him. Only we three and the master knew of the cuts and the blood drinking. Crow was dead within three days, an agony no one should suffer, and yet, I too, though him innocent, because Mizar returned with the news of his death, and Parasyte grinned wide with glee. Something was going on, and I went to the master with it. He knew things seemed amiss, but afterwards, when the trap was sprung, I couldn't find him.
"Parsyte and Domina were called into his chambers the eve of the Shadow's Child's death. I had just come in from a job, and heard the commotion in the common rooms about things. An elder member of the guild had gone up to listen, and she was still there. I was worried, and went up without telling the others. When I got to the doorway, the elder guildlady was dead, the back of her clothes stained in blood. When I stepped into the room, it looked empty, but there was blood everywhere... I could only assume the master dead, and the two assassins were found out and on the run.
"That was until they grabbed me, Parasyte wrapping his hands about my throat tightly, all before I uttered so much as a squeak. The voice that came out of the dark belonged to Domina... and it chilled me to the bone.
"'You're JUST young enough for me, Chalyn. And almost old enough for my lover. Just right for us both.'
"I felt the world go grey, and start to spin. When I heard both Domina and Parasyte scream. I thought the master had returned, apparently really alive, and that he'd brought the whole guild with him. I had to look. Even dizzy and sick as I was, I had to know. Crow stood behind me, bathed in a nimbus of blue-green light, and bearing the poisoned blade he'd carried in life with the guild. Blood smeared his chest where the impaling pole had run him through, and his eyes seemed cold and distant. But that was not what scared me... a mere ghost can startle you, but they're harmless. But Crow... was NO mere ghost. From his back, a pair of dark raven's wings sprouted, and he simply pointed at each of his murderers, and smote them down with a sentence.
"He'd said; 'It is your time.'
"When the rest of the guild came in, they found me lying on the master's couch as if I were asleep, and they said there was a black mark upon my head... make-up they'd said... in the shape of someone's lips... as if I'd been carefully tucked into bed, and kissed goodnight by my mother. That chilled me more than Domina's voice and Parasyte's smile. I knew who'd moved me to the couch... and who'd kissed my forehead. Crow had once told me he'd never have a family... but had he, he'd have wished me his son. He had long since treated me as such... even tucking me in at night, and kissing my forehead like he'd said his father had done with him.
"Of Domina and Parasyte, they found nothing. With the master gone, the guild was broken. The guardsmen came in and killed whomever stayed the next day. Those who cared, had moved me and themselves to safety. They said in my sleep, I kept calling out for Crow. They said for weeks after, I cried like a woman until they drugged me with sleeping draughts. Eventually, I got over whatever it was, And thankfully... don't remember it now... but still, some nights, I feel the wind brush my face, and in the morning I awaken with a black kiss-mark on my forehead."
The gathered murderers-for-hire remained silent for a moment, then spoke.
"He was innocent of those crimes he was slain for then?" Chalyn nodded, then finished his tale.
"Yes, Crow Syk, the Shadow's Child was the BEST assassin I ever knew... but by the gods... if he's one of the Darkangels... and I kill someone he favours... I never want to meet him again."
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
Shadow's Child © 2001 by Jenny Dickinson
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