by Rob Steiner
After an hour of sitting in the shadows of an abandoned street trolley, Karak finally saw movement in the bushes near the Hallowed Bridge. It was only a shudder of the bushes, but on a windless night, it was enough to tell Karak that something alive hid there. Then, amazingly, a small flame appeared as someone lit his pipe, removing all doubt that a man inhabited those bushes. Karak shook his head in disbelief, feeling a little insulted. If this was the quality of assassins the Klahdera had sent against him, they must not think much of him at all.
He waited another fifteen minutes before making his way to the bridge. He wanted to be sure the soon to be dead man in the bushes was the only one. The bridge was located next to a disposal yard for old, broken machinery and scrap metal. Pipes and tubes and gears lay about the dark yard, the grisly remains of disemboweled factories. Karak had to use his assassin’s skills, skills he had not used in a long time, to avoid making noise in this cemetery of metal. He stepped slowly, carefully toward the dead man in the bushes near the bridge. That old feeling of the hunt and the impending kill made Karak’s blood rush in his ears and his heart beat faster. His hand tightened around his knife’s hilt, the blade blackened by fire to avoid giving off a glint in any light.
He approached the bushes from behind and stayed close to the mounds of metal that lined the river front. He wore black clothes he had stolen from several vagrants, but he had washed them first to avoid giving off a stench that would announce his presence. He blended in well. The small light from the assassin’s pipe might not have been noticed by someone walking or riding by on the bridge above, but it was like a lighthouse on a stormy night to Karak, guiding him onward and keeping the would-be assassin’s location known.
Ten paces from the assassin, Karak saw the back of his head. A cold knot formed in Karak’s stomach. He stared at the man’s head for a moment, not believing—or not wanting to believe—what he saw. His emotions ran from betrayal to sadness to anger in a moment. When he regained the cold objectivity of the trained assassin, he sprang forward.
He pulled the man’s golden pony tail back and put the knife at the base of his throat. The man’s hands scrambled for the revolver sitting on his lap, but Karak growled into his ear, “Keep moving and this knife will come out the back of your neck.”
The man froze, then chuckled. “Hey, Karak, you scared me. I thought you were one of the Overlords’ boys.”
“Really, Marwa’jin?” Karak said. “So you’re here to watch my back while I take Silek’s han?”
“Why else would I be here?” he asked.
“I want you to pick up your revolver by the barrel with your thumb and forefinger, and hand it to me slowly.”
Marwa’jin sighed, inching his hand down to the revolver’s barrel. “Karak, you’re awfully paranoid for—”
Marwa’jin tried smashing the back of his head into Karak’s chin, but Karak was ready for such a move. He jerked his head to the side, then brought the hilt of his knife down on the back of Marwa’jin’s head. It did not knock him out, but it dazed him enough so that Karak could grab the revolver as it slipped from the blond man’s hand.
Karak pointed the gun at Marwa’jin’s head as the blond man looked at Karak through half-focused eyes.
“I’m insulted that Silek sent one man for me,” Karak said. “And only his bed boy at that.”
Then Karak made his voice deadly serious. It was not hard. “Why?” he asked, not really expecting an answer from Silek’s Swornman.
But Marwa’jin shook his head to clear it, then snarled at Karak. “It’s your head or his, Karak. Simple as that.”
Then he lunged at Karak. Karak pulled the trigger and blasted a hole through the blond man’s left eye. He fell backward, dead before he hit the ground. Karak half wanted to empty the revolver into the Swornman’s chest, just to make sure he was dead. Given the event that got Karak into this mess to begin with, he did not think it was such an unreasonable feeling. He stamped it down quickly, though, since one gunshot was enough to draw a passing constable’s attention. Five more would bring down a squad.
Karak would have preferred to take the man with his knife, but plans had changed. He had to adapt and change with them. He put the gun in one of his coat pockets, then jogged up the incline to where the first support columns of the stone bridge met the land in front of the water. He searched the column for the false bricks Silek had told him about yesterday, but could not find anything loose. Karak would have been surprised if he had. Silek had been setting him up all along.
Knowing he had lingered, he ran down the incline and made his way back through the machinery graveyard, all the while struggling to keep his emotions under control. Allowing anger or fear to cloud his decisions now would only get him to do something stupid and die. Silek allowed his fear to overcome him, and it had cost him the life of one of his best Swornmen. Karak had let fear overcome him in the silo with Crane, and look where it had brought him. Revenge was a good thing, even a strong motivator, but it was something to pursue in a smart way.
Karak found himself walking back toward the Low City, realizing his feet had made his decision for him. He was tired of running and tired of being betrayed. Crane, Silek, and the Overlords were about to find out why Karak was once considered the best assassin in the Klahdera.