The darkening sky was lit with a fiery vestige of light. The clouds spanned across the sunset, highly toward shadow, in a smear of cotton and wool.
Below, a watery city lay at the merge of two rivers into a vast lake. The ashened slate bricks built the canals and buildings high upon sunken catacombs. Secrets of old lay airlessly beneath earth and water.
A single canoe made its way down a canaled alley, with gentle, steady strokes.
In the distance, a woman's voice sang from a quiet tavern. Her soft, lilting ballad was broken by the chiming of a bell tower, calling a sect of the faithful to evening prayer.
The cloaked figure ignored it, whispering no breath, nor changing course. From below the brow of the cloak's hood, came a solemn tune. With the low humming, it was presumably a male's face behind the hood's shadow. He was seated backwards at the bow of the small vessel, jay-stroking to compensate for the paddle's solitude.
However, upon the bench of what would otherwise have been the stern, a striped kitten of gray and gold was proudly licking itself. The feline bore an aura of command over the vessel, as if possessed of something charismatic, yet unnatural.
The bell stopped ringing.
With a clunk, the birch-paneled canoe bumped against the edge of the canal.
Drawing back his sleeves, the figure tied two ropes onto rungs, tautly connecting boat to shore. And with a sigh, he scooped the impatient cat onto the shore. Then, bracing the paddle perpendicular to the boat's edge, he used it to balance himself. This was so as to carefully shifted his weight, from the middle of the boat onto the foot with which he'd reached for shore.
The kitten began to pace. A mouse scurried by, yet the cat did not even eye it hungrily.
The cloaked figure, having left his paddle in the boat, was now reading a board of postings on the wall of the nearest building. And, as if squinting, he looked closer at something.
"Meow!" The kitten gave an abrupt, urgent request.
The man kept reading. Then, abruptly, he turned and looked down at the cat as if addressing it. He spoke evenly, "Your second wanted poster, Lord Eyse. First in Elsangh, and now in this wretched kingdom as well."
The cat cocked its head to one side.
"It's a sketch of your old mouthpiece. I guess he's still on the run. They think he's you. The thing is, it also says, 'Also Wanted: Any Members of House Rend, Alive, For Questioning'. That doesn't bode well for the feud."
The cat expressed its indignance with a coughing purr.
The cloaked figure, standing to a willowy height, drew back his hood. Yet, there was no real face to see. It was a ceramic mask, as of a doll's face, painted with a fool's make-up. It was glossy, stark and beautifully exotic. However, it was cracked upon one cheekbone. Above it, fell black straight hairs that seemed windswept despite the still air. And he spoke, "Well, what shall we do?"
The young cat responded by darting around a corner in a blur of dimly golden fur.
"Master Eyse, wait for me!" yelled the masked man, running after the cat.
The singing from the nearby tavern had stopped, abruptly. The air was immobile, as if something was amiss.
And he followed around another corner, only then to hear the unsheathing of blades and the whistled battle cry of an assassin.