Stretched across the attic floor, amongst outdated furniture and boxes, Caitlyn listened to her target move around the first floor. She wiped a bead of sweat off her nose with the sleeve of her dark gray tunic. Surveillance in a hot, confined space was not her idea of a good time. Summer’s heat turned the air into a furnace and she struggled for each breath.
Tendrils of her brown hair escaped the confines of her ponytail and stuck to the sides of her face, driving her insane with the need to scratch. But she was a professional, her focus remained centered on her prey.
An assassin by trade and need, she’d learned long ago to ignore environmental incidentals while on an assignment. Except for the dark, gloomy sensation in her gut driving her to dig deeper into this case. The details from her surveillance didn’t correspond with the information Guild Master Jameson had given her; most disturbing, the bright white aura of her target. Only a person pure of heart possessed an aura that color.
Caitlyn had one rule for the assignments she undertook. The target had to be a Betrayer. A traitor to their family, work, or country. It didn’t matter who they were, so long as they were an adult and unfaithful to the trust granted to them by others.
Usually she spent no more than three days surveying her targets, but the inconsistency in the target’s aura spurred her to scrutinize everything. Now on her seventh day, her target’s aura still glowed the pure bright white of innocence. Not a hint of betrayal or wicked intent. And the heavy lump of unease strangled Caitlyn’s heart.
Betrayed by her Guild Master. But like the stealthy spikey-crowned monitor lizard waiting for its prey, she’d be patient and gather more evidence before denunciating the man before the guild.
The front door squeaked and Caitlyn rolled over to watch through a peephole.
“Marcus, I’m glad you’re finally home.” A momentary silence fraught with tension ensued. “What happened now?” Sarah Townberry asked her husband.
“It’s nothing Sarah. Just a small cut.”
“And how did you get it?” The bite of a steel dagger wouldn’t cut as sharply as the tone of Sarah’s voice.
“One of Prince Talley’s personal guard shoved me.”
Sarah paced the length of the small living room. “Maybe I should’ve slept with him. You wouldn’t be attacked everyday if I hadn’t turned him down.”
Marcus crossed the room and wrapped Sarah in his arms. “Honey, you did the right thing. Most of the Paladins are ethical people. They uphold our laws. And it would’ve hurt me more than any physical punishment his guards give me if you’d gone to him.”
The couple shared an intimate kiss and Caitlyn quietly moved away from the spy hole to the opposite end of the attic. While surveillance was a part of her job, she’d never been one for viewing other people’s sexual exploits.
Perched on a large box, her mind processed the details of the case. First, the Guild Master had refused to tell her the name of the contractor. Not a requirement, but usually given to the assassins. More information always made a hit easier to undertake. Second, her target was innocent, had in fact refused to break her pledge bonds.
While three Masters ran the Miscreants Guild, only the Guild Master held responsibility for assignments. He had to have known of the target’s innocence. Why give this case to her? There were other, less particular members of the guild, who would’ve done the job without a thought. Was it an accident or a purposeful betrayal?
Time crept forward while she waited until dusk, when twilight’s shroud provided concealment and people on the street rushed to get home. Folk paid more attention to their safety at full night than when the streets teamed with people intent on reaching their homes. After an hour, long shadows enclosed the attic in gloominess. The trick to a good escape was to act as if you were doing nothing wrong. If you tried to act stealthy, you’d be caught. No one cared about citizens who went about everyday, mundane activities.
Grabbing the hanging rope, she climbed to the hole where the vent usually resided. After swinging through it and then onto the roof, she coiled her rope, attached it to her belt and replaced the attic vent. Spinning together her dwindling reserve of life-force, she created a slide to the alley road.
No one else could see or use the glittery, golden magic. Eventually the magic dissipated and Caitlyn imagined whatever essence remained of her victim’s soul returned to the aether. A soul acted as a catalyst for her magic, sparking many spells before needing to be renewed.
With a break in foot traffic, she walked out of the dark alley and joined the nighttime crowd. Strolling easily, she kept a wary eye on those nearby but didn’t focus too hard. Most of the criminal element stayed away from this part of town. Near the palace and the center of law for Ellemarlene, Paladin knights frequently patrolled these streets and took a dim view of common criminals.
Of course, if you were an uncommon criminal, like herself, the patrols only added to the excitement. At the end of the street, she turned right. Here, stone façade houses gave way to wooden homes. Lower ranked judicial workers mingled with members of the clergy.
Ellemarlene boasted more than 120 different religions. Some were small and some had large congregations but all of them had a place of worship within Blessed Acres, the large area between the city center and Shelbeigh Forest. Usually Caitlyn avoided this part of the city. While she didn’t believe in a particular deity, she didn’t want to be preached at on the street either.
Foot traffic increased and she found herself pushed against other pedestrians. Each contact roused the magic within her and the intense need to feed. Her last assignment had been over five months ago. Soon, her power would lash out and take what it needed but she refused to terminate an innocent’s person life as long as she had a choice. What did the Guild Master know of her powers? Had he given her the assignment because he thought she might be desperate?
She found a shadowed nook between two storefronts to wait for the mass exodus to pass by. One of the bigger churches must have been holding a service. Her stomach rumbled. At least she could feed one of her hungers. A few blocks over, there were some good taverns, so long as you didn’t mind a monk having a philosophical discussion with you. Although, if you looked grim enough, they usually left you alone.
Foot traffic slowed to a trickle. Caitlyn stepped away from the nook and avoided the steaming messes left by draft horses on the cobblestone road. Around the corner, she crossed the street and stopped before a small wooden single-story house with a hanging white, gold, and green sign of a lizard lying on a desert stone. The Sunshine Perch, home to the best corn pastry in Ellemarlene.