Story about a former assassin and her lover set in a unique fantasy world. I'd like to see where people take these two characters.
“Blessed is she who has sight.”
“And blessed is She who grants it.”
-Greeting of the Sleeper Religion
She scrutinized the small group from her perch high along the jagged cliff face and stalked her quarry undetected, studying the armed men on horses and the wagon behind them. The men looked capable and experienced. Their armor showed the scars of battle. The first, the largest of the three, wore several styles of armor latched together. She suspected he had some armory skill because the mismatched pieces fit. He carried a broad sword on his right side, the left handed fighter her employer warned about. They called him “Hog,” she didn’t know or care about his real name. The other two, Hog’s constant companions; together they traveled as a band of soldiers for hire. Mercenaries, out of work or defected from the kingdom armies.
The heirloom her employer paid a large sum of coin to retrieve lay in the wagon below.
She stumbled sending a barrage of stones over the edge. She froze and flattened against the wall. Far below, she heard the wagon stop. She imagined them looking up at the ledge high above. The rocks turned slippery with the sweat from her hands. She closed her eyes, and became one with her surroundings.
The sudden screech of the wagon wheels snapped her back to the present. She stretched her stiff fingers and continued shadowing them until they emerged from the pass. Then, like a tiger, she slipped down into the forest and tracked them through the dense growth.
* * *
Imegara woke from a strange dream of a black mountain lake. An Elven woman stood on its edge, her dark hair and eyes, matched the beauty of her face. Her lean warrior’s build accented her allure. She didn’t understand the meaning of the vision but she knew that the goddess wanted her to know this woman. She quickly dressed and went to learn the answer.
She glided down the narrow temple steps holding the hem of her dark red robes. Two acolytes stood at the bottom of the stairs in hushed conversation.
Seeing her, they bowed saying, “Blessed is She who has sight.”
“And blessed is She who grants it,” she replied.
“Good morning Priestess,” one said.
“Good morning. I see you’ve just finished the first rite.”
“It hurt,” he replied.
“Does receiving “The Eye” hurt?” he asked touching his brow.
She smiled, “No, not at all.”
“Thank you Priestess,” they said bowing.
Large metal doors decorated with magic writing and symbols guarded the inner sanctum of the temple. Imegara spoke a single magical word and the writing glowed with a deep blue radiance. A rush of wind blew her dark brown locks into her eyes as the portal opened. Magic crystals flooded pale light over the worshipers knelt in silent prayer before the statue of the Goddess. She found an empty spot before the statue, bowed deeply and knelt.
She covered her eyes in symbolic blindness, “I weep for my goddess, for she was blinded,” her prayer began. “I pray for guidance in the darkness that enfolds us,” she whispered lowering her head to the floor. Immediately she felt the familiar and comforting presence of the goddess within her, filling her with warmth and strength.
“Mother, what is the meaning of the dream?” she asked.
“Seek,” came her answer in a whisper like dreamers sigh.
“Mother, who is she?”
“Mother, where shall I seek her?”
“In time,” and with that the goddess’s presence left her.
“Blessed is she who has sight, and blessed is She who grants it.”
She rose and bowed deeply towards the Goddess and left the way she came.
A mild panic washed over her. What does it mean? she thought. She sought out one of the tower masters and told him of the dream and of the message from the goddess. His expression was unreadable and he instructed her to return to the temple and pray while he conferred with the other priest. She was in deep prayer when the acolyte came for her.
The sight of the full assembly of masters made her hesitate before entering. She knew deep down what this could mean but it should not happen, not yet, she was too inexperienced and too young.
She took a deep breath, bowed deeply and knelt before them, “Blessed is she who has sight.”
“And blessed is She who grants it,” they replied as one. Her mentor came forward and stood in front of her.
“Rise my student,” he said offering his hand
“The dream you had is a sign from She who is. It is time, my child.”
“I…I do not understand master.”
“It is time for you to “Walk the Path.”
“But master, I am… I mean, I am not ready.”
He smiled, “She Who Sleeps, has spoken to you. She has decided.”
He put his hand on her shoulder and whispered, “I am proud of you.”
“Blessed is she who Slumbers,” she said bowing and wiping away a tear. The acolyte that led her back to her room smiled at her with envy.
When she opened her chamber door, Adaline, saw her expression and hugged her.
“What’s wrong? I heard the masters called you to assembly. Are you in trouble?”
She made a wry face at her. “Are we talking about you again?”
“Tell me, what did they say?”
She took a deep breath, “The Goddess has deemed it time for me to Walk the Path”
Adaline's eyes went wide and she did a little happy dance then hugged her so hard she knocked her against the door.
Her face grew worried, “But wait, you haven’t broken the wall.”
“I know,” she said as the tears came again.
Adaline wiped her cheek, “Don’t worry. The masters say that some people take longer.”
Adaline lifted her head, and quickly kissed her.
“What was that for?”
“I have faith in Her and you.”
The northern winds blew over the mountains and down into the valley below. Narriwenn pulled her cloak tighter, sheltering from the ill wind. She watched the men set up camp for the evening. If they’re any good, they’ll post a guard, if they’re really good they’ll post two, she said to herself. They posted two. With little to do but wait, she found a comfortable spot and fell asleep almost immediately.
Having spent most of her life in the forest she knew every sound that it made. She experienced it as a living entity with a language of its own. The snap of a twig some distance away woke her. She scanned the darkened forest, her elven sight piercing deep gloom. Nothing moved, probably a small animal, she thought. She looked up at the sky, and calculated that little more than half the night had passed. Along this road, she knew it took one more night of travel to reach the nearest city. And most importantly, she knew the men were exhausted and would naturally let their guard down as they neared their destination.
Just before the first rays of sunlight touched the tree tops, she set her plan in motion. She crept towards them like a cheetah stalking a gazelle. Two guards sat on a moss covered log, they were so tired and cold they mistakenly turned towards the fire. It’ll take a few seconds too long for their eyes to adjust, she mused, smiling.
Her employer's orders were clear, retrieve his property; he didn’t care what happened to the men. Senseless bloodshed wasn’t something she did because her training taught her that a live enemy has more information than a dead one.
The wagon rested on the other side of the clearing. She counted three men in all, two sat by the fire, one asleep. She didn’t see the wagon’s driver but guessed he was inside. She made a wide arc moving around the camp slipping between the trees and undergrowth, noting every small detail. She could see the men clearly and then wrinkled her nose when she smelled them.
They smelled awful. How could any woman want to get near that, much less lay with them? She thought.
She watched as the guard’s heads bob up and down. Soon they’ll be asleep and I’ll slip into the wagon, she thought. She went over the plan in her mind, snatch her prize and vanish before they even realize what happened. She snuck closer to the wagon.
Hog slept dead to the world, his breath creating small clouds of steam in the air above him. She crouched next to the wagon and worked her way to the back. Peering over the edge, she spied the driver asleep on the wagon’s floor and thought for a moment what to do about him. She looked around for the small chest, didn’t see it, and planned for the best way to enter.
Crates stacked upon other crates stood in her way and the driver slept between several of them. She stood the back step of the wagon and swung inside.
She retrieved a small vial from her belt and moved catlike towards the sleeping man. Purple smoke wisped from the open container to the driver, he breathed deeply, stirred for a moment and then his body went slack falling into a drugged sleep. She searched for the chest, disturbing as little as possible. A guard coughed and she froze in place hovering above the driver. When silence returned, she resumed the search. After what felt like an eternity, she found the box. Hog spoke just as she tucked it into the pack.
“What? You two sleeping?” he snapped.
The men mumbled in response.
“Fine, you two go to sleep and I'll wake Geral.”
Narriwenn looked down at the driver. Geral won’t be getting up any time soon, she thought. She placed a foot onto the back step when Hog’s face met hers.
Without hesitation, she jabbed him in the throat, grabbed a handful of hair and slammed his head into the back of the wagon.
He grunted and fell to his knees. The other two hearing the commotion, came running.
Narriwenn hit the dirt full-speed. She weaved in and out of the trees gaining some distance before she heard the shouts of the men behind her. They followed her blindly into the forest. She abandoned stealth, crashed through the trees and threw stones in random directions to loose her pursuers. Three against one, she thought. Just like old times.
With her pursuers far behind her, she climbed into a large tree and waited. She intended to hide until they moved past her and then escape in another direction. She slowed her breathing, but the pounding of her heart in her ears couldn’t drown out the racket the three made as they crashed through the forest. One thrashed the bushes with his sword. What’s he doing? Hunting rabbits?
Hog led the way and stopped about ten paces from her perch. He dug around in his belt for something and she leaned forward to get a better look.
He held a small object above his head just as she realized too late, what it was.
Brilliant white light flared and the darkness vanished as the object burned like a miniature sun. She lost her footing with the blinding flash and she grabbed at the branches in a desperate attempt to slow her fall but not before she slammed into the ground. Pain shot through her as her ankle rolled under her. She jumped back on her feet in almost the same instant that she landed. In one fluid movement, she drew both of her blades. The enchanted steel hummed with life. The magic poured over her, the world slowed down around her as her mind cleared as the men charged.
The man on her left slashed with an overhead cut but she deflected the blow and shifted her weight. His momentum carried him forward as she stepped beside him. She made three quick attacks slashed through muscle and met with bone. He hit the dirt face down.
Hog attacked. The pain in her ankle slowed her and she couldn’t twist enough to block. The force of the heavy weapon knocked her guard down. Icy cold pain shot through her arm as the blade cut through her armor. She slipped and instinctively she rolled forward to get behind her opponent. He turned around for another attack. She sized her situation, one down, one in front, and the third still twenty paces away to her left. Hog charged her, his sword ready to take her head from her shoulders. The heavy blade hissed in the air above her as she twisted and landed her boot on his kneecap. He fell down in front of her.
She pulled herself from the ground and ran as hard as she could. Every step shot sharp pains up her leg and her hand was slick with her own blood. She ducked behind a tree and gulped a healing potion. The bitter brew burned as it went down but she felt the effects immediately, the pain lessened and the bleeding stopped.
Her pursuer stopped where she hit and took a second too long to realize his mistake. She slashed his groin open and then his throat silencing his piercing wail. He fell to his knees just as Hog emerged from around the tree.
They faced each other circling the dying man and the tree. She kept just out of his range. He stabbed at her but she easily parried him. His movements showed he had training and experience which meant he survived many battles.
“Hog, we can both walk away,” she said between breaths appealing to him.
“You don’t know me, treewhore,” he spat.
“Is this really worth dying for?”
“You’re the one that’s going to die.”
She feigned an attack and threw her sword at his head forcing him to block the flying blade. She sprung into a forward roll and dove for his side. She came out of the roll and brought her blade up in a backhand strike piercing his armor and burying the blade deep within his stomach. She pulled the blade up as hard as she could he dropped his weapon and managed to get his hands around her throat. She hammered the palm of her hand into the hilt of the weapon forcing it deeper and pulled with all her might as his grip tightened. She couldn’t breathe and started to loose consciousness when his strength faded and his fingers went slack and a look of disbelief crossed his face. She let him slide back from her blade and headed back towards the camp.
Some time in the morning, Geral the driver woke after a very restful sleep only to find himself alone and the horses gone.