The keening sound of an unnaturally thin blade got closer and louder. He loved the sound. He felt the force behind the blow before it even reached him — he should have known that his opponent was skilled with the blade too. Wind parted around the razor sharp metal, creating a vacuum. With a savage grin, he stepped into the blow aimed for his neck. The sword screamed past his long white hair, as his momentum lowered his entire body. A bestial roar built inside of him; it started deep inside his stomach and hurtled at breakneck speeds up through his body to his throat. He clenched his teeth tightly and stopped the sound from escaping him as his leading foot completed the step-in.
All the energy he’d built up as he’d stepped in towards his assailant coursed through him and was just stopped in a shocking display of brutal physical conditioning. In that one instant, his entire body went taut as he focused his momentum onto his leading left foot. Muscles screaming, he shifted his body weight into a sideways motion starting from the hip. His right arm flashed out in a black blur — unsheathing his Hust-forged sword in a vicious horizontal slash.
“Death is lighter than a feather.”
He exulted in the feeling of metal meeting flesh — that first contact when in an infinitesimal moment the conclusion is ambiguous. A time where the world bends into a surreal place where it could be the sword which snaps or the body which is torn asunder. In an explosion of blood and bone, time resumed its regular course, his opponent already dead by the time he’d pulled his weapon back neatly into its scabbard. The unnatural silence was broken by him screaming savagely in a hollow victory. He looked down at his hands, stained with blood and fought back the putrid taste of despair.
“Duty, heavier than a mountain”
His mentor’s words usually brought him a measure of peace. It had always been enough. Not today.
Immediately, a wispy portal of inky darkness came into existence ahead of him. He drank in the blurry sight of the world he called his own: Kurald Galain. It helped drown out the voice screaming in his head. He reached for a smile and failed. Standing up from his crouching position, he took a determined step forward. He left his opponent’s blade where it was. The portal swallowed him up seamlessly and melted away. He didn’t look back.
His eyes opened languidly with slow blinks. He was fully aware the moment he’d emerged from his reverie but habits created by his time in the war kept him from opening his eyes fully. He took in the familiar surroundings of his room and started to slow his breathing. His gaze swept the room in a ritual which he’d meticulously created to produce a specific experience — it had taken him years to complete.
Directly above his bed he’d written the words of a bitter soldier he’d known, which he’d made his motto when he hadn’t known any better.
“Ambition is not a dirty word. Piss on compromise. Go for the throat.”
As the first and last thing he saw when he woke up or slept, it reminded him of more innocent times — when he hadn’t been tainted by something universally accepted as a good thing — knowledge. He still wondered at the trade-off between innocence and wisdom; some days, it just didn’t feel like it was worth it. Today, however, was going to be a good day.
He sat up slowly so as not to disturb the frequent occupant in his bed. He looked across towards the mirror to burn the sight into his memory yet again. An ebony finger traced the livid weal running diagonally across his chest — the price of mercy. A mistake he would never make again. Running a hand through his unruly white mane, he turned to his right to step out of the bed and clean the broken sword hanging on the wall. Before his second leg could complete its swing, he felt soft skin against his back. He froze. His pupils dilated in irrational rage. He did not like it when his ritual was disturbed. It would have to be done again from the start. As her arms enfolded him and softly retraced his scar, his rage fizzled out.
She was an aberration. He still vividly remembered the first time he laid eyes on her. She was playing the violin and had captivated the entire establishment with her divine melody. He didn’t hear any of it. Her liquid violet eyes captured his and he came under assault. She smiled seductively and looked away shortly, leaving him feeling like someone had dropped hot lead into his stomach. He was intrigued. He was captivated. He was, in retrospect, a complete amateur.
He didn’t allow for weakness but she’d somehow slipped in. She had violently intruded on his life recently and quickly become an integral part of it. It infuriated and delighted him simultaneously, leaving him reeling but unwilling to change anything. He could count on one hand the things which made him happy. Inevitably, he was lenient with her. She’d learn and respect his ritual soon enough.
He turned into her embrace and buried his face into the crook of her neck. Taking in the smell of her hair, musk and blueroses, he stroked her pale back with a gentleness few had ever witnessed. She pulled away from him and arched her back in a stretch — her eyes inviting him vivaciously. With effort, he ripped his attention away from her and slipped back into bed. This time, he completed the ritual, feeling her avid gaze on him the entire time. He pulled on his uniform jerkily, her attention causing his concentration to waver. He smiled at his mistake, the only one he allowed, as he left his quarters. He was being assigned a new target today.
The brief was short. Enemy agent, skilled at stealth and infiltration. Highly dangerous and armed. Possesses key information, likely from another leak in the troops. To be found and eliminated with extreme prejudice. It sounded like a run of the mill assignment. He was about to tune out when something caught his attention.
“Lord Anomandaris. Could you repeat that last bit again please?” he asked, an involuntary quaver in his voice.
Quirking an elegant eyebrow in surprise, his lord obliged him.
“The target’s weapon of choice is a poison coated blade. The poison is made from the extract of the Bluerose. Recovering this weapon is extremely important.”
“Thank you, my lord”, he replied smoothly and exited with a graceful bow.
He stepped back into his quarters. Questioning violet eyes met his but he looked away. Without warning, a portal erupted into existence in front of him and he jumped through. It didn’t close after him. He was waiting for a guest after all. His emotions were a mess: despair, betrayal, anger, hurt, and a childish bewilderment. He stopped for a moment. Took a breath. His mentor’s words usually brought him a measure of peace. It had always been enough — today…he needed it to be.
“Death is lighter than a feather. Duty, heavier than a mountain.”