"We sought to stem the flow of dreaming and its consequences. Numerous tests were conducted, the details of which I supply at the back of this document. Our conclusion is that this should be studied further and I am attaching also our application for funds. It is imperative that our research continue and more subjects must needs be found."
From the notes of Feillsai de Jeorg, Head of Research of the Collegium of Tiern.
Misheru leant over the bowl, barely breathing so that the liquid inside shimmered and lapped the rim but did not overflow. She let three drops fall from a stopper, watched the ripples expand to nothing. As soon as the liquid was still, words appeared, the letters forming one by one. Reading them, she smiled, corners of her mouth tugging painfully.
No light could enter the room but she was careful to replace the velvet hangings over the door before she opened it, brushing through another as she closed and locked the door behind her. She took a moment to adjust her clothes, tugging the hood of the robe back over her head, before turning down the dim hallway. She walked slowly, with a halting step, her right leg weaker than the left, but the hood hid the scars that pulled the flesh of her right cheek into puckered and livid ridges.
She climbed a flight of stairs carefully, pausing halfway up as her ankle gave a painful twinge. At the top she turned left and entered a busier area. A line of young girls in the yellow hoods of novices passed her, bowing their heads respectfully. Their teacher watched them then made her own bow.
“Reverence,” Sister Nolla said with a smile.
“Sister Nolla,” Misheru said, inclining her head. She did not smile back. She smiled only when she was alone and that rarely. Sister Nolla led her charges away and she continued on, pausing only to return greetings. She was almost at the door of her private study when a novice appeared, breathless and self-conscious.
“What is it?” Misheru asked.
“A message,” the novice said, flushed with the importance of her task. She was one of the younger novices, couldn’t have been more than eight. Misheru took it, thanked her and walked into her study. She sat down at her desk with a sigh. Her bad leg ached as it always did in damp weather. Spring had been unusually wet and even the fire burning merrily in the grate couldn’t take the chill out of her weakened right side. She prepared to open the message, reaching for a silver knife to cut through the seal. The knife glinted. Misheru moved to her left and a dagger that would have plunged into her neck instead fell on the wood of the desk, leaving a deep score in the dark-varnished mahogany.
She pushed herself from the chair, dropping to the floor, hearing breathing behind her and fabric rustling. With her good leg she kicked at the chair and heard a thud and a soft curse, but it gave her time to turn and look at her attacker. He wore undistinguished dark gray and brown, his head and most of his face hidden by a mask. Between the folds of it his eyes glittered. Her right side was screaming now, but the pain leant her vicious anger. Even as he was pushing the chair to one side she kicked it again, watched with satisfaction as one of the legs caught him hard enough in the shin to bring a deep bruise, but it fell over on its side and now there was nothing to hide behind. As he stepped forward Misheru scrambled desperately at the desk, her hand bringing down papers and books, an ink well which rolled as it fell and spilled its contents in a dark stain. She could only see his eyes but she thought he was smiling now.
Misheru couldn’t get up. Her twisted and scarred right side was on fire, the wasted muscles cramping. The assassin knelt down beside her on the carpet. He had another knife. Before he could bring his arm down Misheru stabbed him. He looked down in surprize to see the silver handle of the paper knife sticking out from between his ribs. Misheru smiled at him, the bare flaps of her lipless mouth forming a hideous grimace.
“Thank you,” she said. “That was invigorating.” The assassin opened his mouth to speak. Before he could say one word Misheru clapped her hands together. He vanished. Shaking her head she got painfully to her feet and tidied up the room. No one in the school needed to know of her research, or of the killers that were sent. The next one would be better, faster and more difficult to beat. Next time, she wouldn’t be able to play. Next time...She sat down in her righted chair and tore the message open with her fingers, annoyed at the loss of her silver paper knife.
“Bitch!” the assassin said. But he was talking to a tree. “Witch bitch!” he said to the tree and stared down at the knife that was lodged in his side. He pulled off his mask, revealing a surprizingly boyish and innocent face and thick fair hair. Selecting a stick, he bit down on it and curled the fingers of his right hand around the knife, pressing the left to the wound. He moaned as he pulled it out, tears springing to the corners of his eyes. He took off his jacket and shirt, cleaned the wound and then bound it tightly with bandages from his small pack. Blood soaked through the white cloth but he buttoned his clothes over it and hoped for the best. He had something for the pain at least. He drained a tiny bottle of the stuff, feeling even as he swallowed the warmth seep into him.
Getting up was a problem. As soon as he stood new pain shot through his ribs, sharp enough to make him cry out and his head swim. He leant heavily against the tree and closed his eyes for a moment.
He couldn’t go back. He’d failed. It wouldn’t matter to Ivlin that no one else had managed so far to kill that scarred witch. Ivlin didn’t like mistakes. He could imagine the kind of welcome he’d get.
“So Piri, couldn’t do it eh?” Ivlin would say; “A real shame, that is.”And a few days later, if he was unlucky, Piri might sense the blow before it killed him. And he’d be found and stuck in a pauper grave with no headstone, unclaimed and nameless. No one would care that Pirir Lastekas had died. No one would even know it, except for Ivlin.
Best all round to just disappear. He’d done it before. It wasn’t so hard. The trick was to never be quite important enough that anyone would spend much of their time trying to find you. First though, he needed to find out where the scarred old witch had sent him. Her with her ruined face and ugly mouth; she’d taught him some lessons and he wouldn’t forget them.
Piri walked through the woods, hand pressed to his side. As the pain eased more and more his stride became easier. He was thinking how great it felt to walk away and leave problems behind you, and wondering what he might do next.