“It’s all about interrupting their efforts to coordinate, and keeping them off-balance. And then of course, striking when you see an opening” explained Lieran, as the two sparred in the training room one early morning. It had been nearly nine months since the halfling had arrived, and already he rivaled the skill of some of the guild’s top members. There were those who hoped that the halfling never got his chance to fully join the guild, fretting over petty ranks and titles like the pompous nobles from whom they stole, and extorted for their services.
Of course they did have a reason to be afraid, because for Racieus, simply being a member of the guild would not be enough. He wanted to be the best, and there were few who doubted that he was living up to his goal. A few weeks prior, the guild master had explained the rank system to the young halfling. When a member died, all members behind him, advanced in rank, and the new recruit started at the bottom in rank three hundred and thirty three. To advance in rank he had to beat the member directly above him in some sort of challenge determined by the guild master, who could also be challenged himself, by the second ranked member.
The challenges were designed to pit the skills and resourcefulness of the opponents against each other. Sometimes the challenge would play upon the strengths of both contestants, sometimes it would challenge catered to a skill that neither had much proficiency in. Sometimes it was mixed. To Racieus, it seemed the best way to move through the ranks, was to just ensure that he was the best at everything, and in reality, that was what the challenge system sought to promote: continual growth in, and honing of, skill.
Over the last couple of weeks, Lieran had begun to teach the halfling some of the more advanced combat techniques that he knew. The last few days had been spent on engaging multiple enemies at once. “Of course, as assassins, we would prefer to eliminate them one by one without them spotting us, but luck favors the prepared.” The guild master jumped over a low swipe from Racieus, who timed a kick just as his teacher was about to land. Lieran stumbled, but managed to regain his balance quicker than Racieus had anticipated, jabbing in with staggered strikes.
“It’s not really something that can be taught, or even explained” he continued, jumping back as the halfling parried his strikes and swept across with one dagger. “I’ve shown you some of the common moves and styles, but it is largely something that an experienced warrior finds out for himself. The best I could do to teach this would be to hire some men and let you practice on them.”
“Then why don’t we do that?” grunted Racieus, as he took the full weight of a follow-up strike from his teacher, the steel in his hands vibrating harshly.
“I don’t know where to find anyone willing to be beat on, and by a halfling no less. Or more likely, no one would take you seriously. Although I suppose it’s possible that I could use some of the other guild members or recruits, but-”
There was a loud knocking sound that echoed through the large house. Lieran and his apprentice stopped mid-swing, and looked at one another in confusion before sheathing their weapons and exiting the training hall to investigate. “That sounded like downstairs entrance” remarked Racieus, and the tall assassin nodded in agreement.
“Indeed. Although it’s a risky business disturbing or surprising a guild in the early hours of the morning. Or in general I suppose” he said with with a smile. The pair passed a few members exiting their rooms, in various states of alertness and dress. Down the stairs they went, coming to the large double doors. Each had a hand resting on a weapon as Lieran pushed open the door.
Racieus spotted it first, being more used to seeing the ground than the guild master. It took the tall assassin only a moment before he too looked down and spotted the grotesque object that had been left, unaccompanied, on the doorstep, a note lying on the ground next to it.
It was a head.