The sun neared the end of its descent beneath the horizon, peeking out just over the rooftops stubbornly. Though it bothered my eyes, I kept them squinted to more easily observe crowd in the bazaar below me warily from my vantage point in the abandoned tower, watching each who came and went from my target’s stall. The entire circle was patrolled by the city militia, but my bounty kept his cart and tables of goods under heavy guard, and both he and his presumably hired soldiers were bristling with weaponry: swords at their hips, daggers tucked into their belts, longbows slung over shoulders with dark-bound quivers. It wasn’t just odd, it was suspicious; clearly from how the soldiers avoid him, however, nobody was brave enough to react.

My to-be dead man appeared to be an irritable, middle-aged male with graying hair- what little he had left, at least. He had the chubby face, wide frame and expensive silks of a rich merchant from the west, perhaps Ganndian, though I matched him as “rich” more-so because of his stomach which protruded disgustingly over his too-tight belt of tiger-patterned leather. In Gannd, only the nobility and merchants make enough coin to eat to their fill. Or, in this man’s case, four times his obese stomach’s physical capacity.

The eight guards about him were clad in worn leathers more often seen on the banditry of the plains roads. Most of them appeared to be Rikom’loa, though two of the crowd appeared like mix-blooded Ganndians. I could not tell the race of one man, however, for he wore a coarse black cloak and hood, his clothing a tender mottling of grays and browns. Due to the blasted hood, his face was obscure, hidden in shadows from even my perceptive sight. I knew I was more than a match for the seven other mercenaries, and I’d make swift work of the merchant. But I couldn’t even make out a distinct shape for the boy, and that inability to know scared me more than anything I’ve ever faced.

As I mused and planned and fidgeted anxiously, the sun finally dipped behind the buildings of this monstrous stone-and-wood city. The circle began to clear as the night lamps were brought to flickering life. Several of the less faithful militia slipped away, patrolling conveniently towards one of the many bars littered about the city like the fat roaches who creep into houses, feeding off the garbage and trash of the dainty nobles and vicious slum-folk who visit them. I personally abhorred these people- men and women alike- the sort who traversed the mysterious brothels and filthy bars of the cities. But I couldn’t waste my time on the likes of them- not tonight, at least.

Returning my attention to the present and ignoring a noise like feathers and silk murmuring together (probably some noblewoman in a nearby home preparing for bed), I watched my target as he packed up his goods. Seven men stood vigilant guard. My instincts were instantly set on edge, eyes narrowing, trying to note what was wrong with the scene before me. The Ganndian merchant was still here, the circle was clearing out for easier removal of my target, the seven guards stood about stupidly, with no idea I was still watching…

…Wait…

Seven?

My eyes widened, but it was too late. The whispering noise had closed in on me, cold steel pressing to my throat. In spite of all my training, only a curse escaped my lips: “Oh, domves.”

“Don’t move.” He- by his voice, I knew my assailant was a he- spoke quietly. Even though he was probably about to kill me, I couldn’t help but think how smooth and sweet his voice was, reminding me of fresh, well-preserved honey. Of course, I wasn’t about to let that curiosity stop me, nor was I going to heed his short order. I relaxed my muscles, tilting my head up as though to strain my neck away from the blade’s edge. Behind me, I heard his feet shuffle, those robes murmuring together again as he undoubtedly shifted his stance.

I was unperturbed. My elbow came back suddenly, jabbing directly into his abdomen, and as he recoiled back in surprise I let my body follow after him, falling. I hastily ducked out from his arm, away from the steel tooth he carried. I thought I had timed myself perfectly- in truth, with anyone else I would have been in safety, and they on their back- but I had apparently undermined my foe’s own abilities and speed.

A stinging pain slid an inch down along my shoulderblade, and as I swung myself forward to launch myself a few feet away from the enemy, I looked to see he already had been on his feet again. Amazing. My gaze moved to my shoulder, and I bit my tongue to swallow a curse. My commoner’s clothes- why did I let my guard down and abandon my leathers at my camp?- were torn neatly at the shoulder of the sleeve, and dark blood trickled from a cut there. It wasn’t deep, but it still spoke wonders of my enemy; not many were able to land a blow upon Janselra’s blessed. I could not help but hold respect for him due to this feat.

Oddly, he did not move- and, weirder so, neither did I. After a moment of silence passed, the cloaked stranger spoke simply, “I told you not to move, stupid girl.”

“…I’m sorry, what?” I stared at him blankly. All the lessons I had garnered from the high priests in the monastery told me to kill him. My short temper told me to kill him. But he did not attack me. I, unarmed and cornered, did not doubt that he could slice me into delicate ribbons and sell the fleshy bows to little girls on the streets for grimy pocket change. Despite this, I could not find even the shadow of fear in my mind. In fact, I felt… At peace.

Unsurprisingly, he had already responded to my rhetorical question. I hadn’t been listening, contemplative dunce that I am when bewildered. Luckily for me, he repeated himself in that beautiful, charming voice that I was already beginning to love, “I told you not to move. I don’t want to hurt you; just know what you’re doing.”

“Well, if you want to know what I’m doing,” I began to respond as shortly as possible- at this point, a nigh-impossible feat, “then I want to know who you are.”

“Aleisin.” He replied simply, pulling down his cloak’s hood to reveal his boyish features, short-cropped messy blonde hair, and inquisitive eyes. “Now, what are you doing watching my father?”

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