Thank you, to everyone who supported and aided me in this journey, especially my wonderful wife!
_Ten bullets left… _
Slowing her breathing, she took inventory of the past few minutes. Of the sixteen men in the building, eight still lived.
The contract Myiin had taken stipulated that her mark’s death needed to be a statement. Contracts with that wording contain the implication of acceptance towards collateral losses-
A sound behind her brought her back to the moment. Two meters back and to her left. The footfall had been faint, but she registered the sound.
Taking a deep breath her respite ended. Myiin twisted from her seated position into a crouch. The crate she had been resting against hid her movements. Closing her eyes she placed her forehead against the wooden box and opened her ears.
There. She caught the sound again.
Myiin moved away from the tall box and towards the men who had chosen their own demise, rather than give up their leader.
Stepping around a metal rack, she saw the two figures before they saw her. The muzzle flashes from her pistol seized their attention as her bullets eradicated each consciousness. Myiin did not slow as she glided past their fallen bodies.
Cries of alarm rang through the warehouse as the remaining group tried to find the source of the sudden bursts of blue light.
“It came from over there!”
“Who was it?”
“Emas? Emas, answer me!”
“Over here! They’re dead!”
“She killed them!”
The sounds of moving bodies filled the space while the remaining men formed around the dead.
Myiin glanced down at them from her perch in the rafters.
A portion of her wanted to laugh that there was still surprise in their tones. How could they not expect this by now? _]But she remembered the words she heard long ago, “[_no one accepts how quickly their soul can return to the Halls of the Eight”.
She could finish it now; they were all within her line of sight.
Six bodies, eight bullets, I could do it with five.
A tall, big man stepped into the middle of the group. “Come out Shroudling!” His voice ringing through the warehouse. He was the one who had put this day into motion. “Face us and we’ll see what happens!”
“Shroudling?!” A shaky voice came from the group. “She’s a slave?”
“T-the blue light! S-s-she’s casting! They aren’t allowed!”
“Ralos, you didn’t say anything about one of those… It’s unnatural!”
“Forget this! I’m outta here.”
“Stand your ground, cur! She’s hiding because she’s trying to take us out individually! Those are bullet wounds, not magic!” The last word twisted in disgust. “Stay in a group and she can’t touch us!”
Ralos had a “no-nonsense” tone that welded his leadership to his physical presence. She was not surprised he had gained so many followers. His was the voice that had driven these people to rise with him, to try to gain power and prestige. It was the catalyst that had led these men, and others, to their deaths.
“I didn’t see the tattoos.” A different voice tried to soothe the group. “Maybe you were mistaken Ralos… Did anyone else see the marks?”
Various grunts confirmed that none of them had seen the mandatory face tattoos required for all Shrouds.
Myiin had kept her identity, and her powers, hidden for years. “By the Righteous let me hide for years more.” The prayer came out as a whisper. Raising the pistol, Myiin thanked it silently for helping keep her secret. She aligned the sights, and four blasts of blue light eradicated the darkness around her.
Five bodies jolted at the impact of her bullets. Three of her shots were immediate kills, the fourth went through and through, neck to neck. The two men had stood next to each, the angle was just what she needed.
While the dying fell, she glided across the rafters stalking the only body still upright.
Myiin could hear Ralos’ curses when the cacophony of gunfire and ricocheting bullets ceased.
Grasping the metal beam she angled herself into the space between the rafters and pulled the trigger. Screams of pain filled the warehouse as the shot burrowed down into the man’s shoulder. More curses flew from him as his weapon fell uselessly to the ground.
Myiin’s knees bent slightly as her body absorbed the impact from the twenty meter free fall, it was the first time she’d used her powers tonight. As she stood straight, her head rose and assessed the wounded man. The black vapors wrapping around her body dissipated, as she let go of her power.
“I-I was right! You are a Shroudling!” Terror filled his voice while anger filled his eyes.
“Yes, I am.” The melodic nature of her voice gave a sharp contrast to his now warbling plea.
“Why? Why did you come here?”
“I came for you Ralos.” Her left hand reached into her coat pocket. Myiin watched as he scrambled backward. Ralos’ terror was finally starting to reach his soul, and it spoke through his unnaturally wide eyes.
“Please, please let me live! I’ll give you anything you want. I’ve got money, power! It’s yours. Anything. Please!”
He clutched his wounded shoulder as his physical form proclaimed his fright.
Slowly her hand withdrew from her pocket with a folded piece of parchment. Ralos’ eyes landed on the wax seal and knowledge crept into his brain, followed by her next bullet.
The pistol slid into the holster under her left arm. She looked around the warehouse and stepped over Ralos’ fallen body. Myiin made the sealed parchment disappear back into the pocket of her thigh length, black coat. Her contract had not required the disclosure of the document and which seal had validated his death. She never hid the contractors identity from a dead mark.
Only cowards kill in anonymity.
A soft strike sounded from high above. After the hours of rising pressure, the storm had arrived. The strikes grew in succession till a constant drone struck the metal roof overhead and drowned out the emptiness she felt at the “work” she had just finished.
Myiin cleared her mind of everything and felt the world shift.
Her fingers became a fluid blur as they moved from her outstretched hand. A sudden rush of blackness swallowed her vision and raised the entirety of her senses. Years of training and use had broken her of the alarm that used to come with the change of Casting.
Faintly she registered the increase of sound from the rain pelting the roof, the discordant murmurs of the individual drops. Myiin ignored the wind that naturally moved through the expanse of the warehouse, resisted the assault on her sense of smell from the mix emanating from the shipping containers. Her eyes pierced the depths of the darkness and saw the flowing grains of the wooden crates, the rust forming on nails.
In the distant world of reality, she felt the black mists emanating from her body.
All this was commonplace, as was the soft tinkling sound of her spell in action.
In moments, her vision returned to normal as she released the power that flowed through her. Even without her increased perceptions she felt the added weight of the spent shells she had pulled into her coat pocket.
Myiin sent one last glance around the room before focusing on the man she had come to kill. No mistakes, no witnesses. Ralos’ death and the death of the men that served him would make the statement her contractors desired.
Now it was time for her to go home.
She walked back to where she had entered the warehouse and pulled her black cloak and flat brimmed hat from the spot where she had stashed them.
Pulling the veil off the brim, she knew she was violating tradition. If anyone saw her they would immediately remember such an occurrence. Myiin relied on the late hour and the rain to prevent that from happening.
It was for the rain that Myiin threw off the stale tradition. Ever since she was a little girl, she loved watching the water wash everything clean. Wrapping the cloak around her, it engulfed her completely and placing the hat on her head, she stepped out into the night.
The rain pelted down on her, like a hand pushing on her shoulders; as if the rain was forcing her to feel the displeasure of nature.
What she had done was in violation of what was “right” according to the Natural Law. The taking of a life was forbidden by the Righteous. She laughed at that thought, who could dictate what was, “right”? The King? The Queen? The people? Nature?
All of those things lead people to their deaths, just down different avenues.
Myiin turned and walked away from the warehouse. Her boots clicked on the cobblestone street and echoed off the metal and wood storage buildings. She paused at the opening of the foot path.
Through the rain she could see the steel boats moored against the docks. Most of those vessels had served time as warships. They were technological wonders; the best minds in the kingdom had struggled for generations to create them. Now they were stripped of armaments and used by the Trade Council.
A lot had changed since the treaty was signed.
A hundred and thirty-two years of war ended on the day the Queen had been born.
Only twenty-three years of peace…
Stepping out from the safety of the shadows she moved along the empty docks. Away from the buildings she was accosted by the smell of sea, fuel, and dead ocean life. Some people said it was the smell of prosperity, Myiin tried not to breath in the scent.
Light from the gas powered lamps provided pitiful illumination in the rain, but she frequented this area and knew the streets and walkways well.
None of the districts had a curfew but this was “The Week of Observance”, an annual remembrance of the lives that were lost during the war. This was the only time of year the constant chaos of the harbor stopped and the docks emptied. Ships that were moored after the bells struck the afternoon high were not touched till the following morning if they were even allowed past the outer sea wall at all.
She climbed the steep ramp that lifted her away from the docks and found herself in another world. All of those years of war had given the kingdom ample technological advancements in killing the enemy, some of the ships she had passed required the rarest resources in the kingdom to create. But as she looked at the wood and whitewashed buildings that ran around the docks it was clear where the advancements ceased.
Myiin had no idea how many times these structures had been destroyed and rebuilt during the war, or for how much longer they would stand after today.
The buildings were built for expediency, high occupancy, and low income. The ground floors had simple shops and dining halls that catered to the sailors and dock workers. There were bars for drinking, dark alcoves for smuggling, and everything in between.
Myiin could hear the raucous sounds from inside the buildings, the exuberance in which the men were “remembering” the fallen.
At this hour in the Industrial District, the Night’s Watch were the only people she expected to see out in the darkness. If she were discovered her presence on the street would be noted on the Watch’s log and no one can lie to the Watch. When her work was discovered the next morning… It would not take long for them to put her to the question.
Myiin knew all of the guards that were stationed in the district, and the group that was on patrol tonight. She had ten minutes to leave the area before the patrols came down this avenue.
Walking the streets her hands never left the grips on her pistols, the feeling of steel and wood against her skin calmed her.
Myiin pushed open the door to an abandoned tenement and began to climb the dilapidated stairs. The Watch had cleared this building for demolition a week ago, so she rose through the vacant floors with little concern of being spotted.
She reached the fifth floor and turned down the hallway. Crossing the threshold into an apartment she scanned the room. The remnants of the people who had lived here before the Watch came through still littered the dwelling. Everything was exactly as she had marked three days prior.
Crossing into a side room she approached the window she had broken. Myiin looked out through the opening and across the wall that separated the Industrial from the Mercantile District.
Normally she would have to pass through a gatehouse to go between Districts after nightfall, which would have accounted for too many questions.
The black mists began to radiate from her body.
“Get back here thief!”
The words echoed through the building and Myiin froze. They found me? The question formed in her mind and absolved itself in an instant. With her heightened senses she could hear the sound of running feet. One set of footfalls was closer than the others.
Myiin heard the chase as it came up the stairs. Her pulse began to increase as the sounds came nearer.
She had been paid to kill a thug, a man who had tried to upset the criminal underlining of the kingdom. If the Watch found her…
Myiin did not relish the thought of having to kill them and those deaths would not go unpunished. They would find the one who killed their own.
A cry of alarm rang out, someone had fallen. Heavy objects fell to the ground and scuffling filled her ears.
“Get ‘em up.” The words were ragged and pushed out of clenched teeth. “You know the penalty for thievery, boy?”
A much lighter sentence than killing a warehouse full of men, regardless of the fact the contract had been approved by the Council.
“The floor, Litts, someone else is here.”
Myiin’s breath caught in her throat. Her hands moved back to her pistols. She should have reloaded her weapons before she left the docks, the noise of changing the magazines might give her away. She cursed.
Her feet were planted in this spot; if she tried to run for the window she would definitely be heard.
Heavy footsteps started up the stairs. “Who’s there?! Show yourself!” The voice was not as thick as the first, Litts, she noted. Myiin did not know this man, she wondered how far they had chased their prey before reaching this place.
He’s young, new officer to the Watch.
“Leave it. We have the ass that brought us here.” Litts said.
“Follow orders boy. If someone is here, they are just trying to get out of the bleedin’ rain. Now it’s cold and I need a drink and this little…” The voice faded as it began to move down the stairs.
She allowed the air in her chest to silently escape. The stairs were a mixture of footfalls, curses, and grunts as the group moved away from her. She counted the seconds, till she convinced herself enough time had passed.
Myiin pushed herself away from the wall and threw her body out of the building. Clearing the wall she cursed. Her push from the window frame had not been enough. The souls of her boots were still damp, and the wooden sill had absorbed the rain, the combination had provided a spongy launching point. She braced herself.
Her plan was to land on the roof of the building on the other side of the wall; she was going to miss the roof. Myiin’s thoughts formed in an instant, reach out to try and grab the ledge or use her arms to try and lessen the impact. That instant cost her. The only thing she could do was force the air out of her lungs.
Her body slammed into the brick building.
Bouncing off the surface she tried to correct her trajectory, but her brain was addled by the collision. Myiin’s disorientation expanded greatly as she hit the street.
Lying between the building and the wall she could feel the water seeping into her clothes. The rain was pouring down on her. She pushed herself off the ground.
Myiin had tried to use her abilities to lessen the blow to her body, and as she started to make her body move, she knew it had mostly worked. She chuckled at herself. I’m not dead.
“But I’m going to be sore tomorrow.”
The sound of running footsteps broke through the pounding in her ears. Focusing she could hear the jostling armor and weapons the men wore. It was the Watch.
“How long have I been down?”
Myiin tried to recount the moments since she had hit the building and the street below, someone must of had heard her cry…
She forced herself to start moving. Limping down the alley between the buildings she dove into an alcove and grunted as she slid down into a seated position. Her cloak covered her completely and she forced herself to remain calm.
A bright, white light shone down the alley for a moment before she heard running.
“Try to go too far too quickly and they’ll find you.”
Myiin peered around the corner to make sure the Watch had moved on before she left her alcove. They’ll come back and search here, I have to move.
The Mercantile District had little in common with its neighbor, and the owners of these buildings had the resources to upgrade. Now that the people were not limited to wartime rations, they had begun to spend money and it showed. Decorations and adornments littered the buildings, fences, and anything else that could be seen, and she was sticking to the alleys.
At least they’ve kept the garish paints to the front of the buildings- Her boots splashed through a puddle and she paused.
Putting her back against the wall, she edged towards the corner. They stood like black statues in the night, the Royal Security Force.She slipped back into the alley.
How did they find me?
It was three hours since she had killed the first member of Ralos’ group. They could not have put it together that quickly… Something else?
Retreating from the corner she made her way back up the alley. The detour she suffered as a result of the Force’s perimeter kept her in the rain for another half an hour and drove her to the rooftops.
This approach was the most difficult path to her solitude, but she could not risk being seen.
She started grabbing the gaps in the mortar and felt her body tighten. Myiin let go as a stabbing pain exploded from her right side. The fall had broken at least one of her ribs, and she knew that pain. Looking at the opening thirty meters above her head, she sighed.
Myiin shook her head and started climbing again.
She left her cloak and hat hanging by the exterior door and began to descend the narrow stairs. Her body shook from the wet, cold, and pain that encompassed every part of her being.
Arriving at a door, Myiin placed both hands on the hinged side of the frame and positioned her fingers. Applying a slight pressure, the safety latch clicked home and she pushed the door open.
She stepped over the threshold, spared from the chemical burns that would have resulted from anyone not knowing of the hidden release.
Closing the door, she scanned the room. Hidden around the space were unlit candles, they would only burn if someone crossed one of her hidden incantations. No one had moved anywhere near her hidden alcove during her absence.
Myiin approached a candle not linked to her warning system, the flame lit at her touch. She had infused all the candles with alchemy. Her flames would not leave the confines of the modified wax and would never ignite. This was good considering the illumination danced along solid walls of books.
Stepping into a side room she emptied her coat pocket of the spent shells. Myiin hung her black coat on the wall and sighed. She was not in the mood to do alchemy tonight.
All of the items she needed to create her propellant, lined the walls, but it would still take hours to get the fluids to mix. Not to mention she’d have to reform the casings…
It could wait till tomorrow.
She unstrapped the holstered throwing knives that wrapped around her wrists and inspected the edges. There had been no use for them, but she always cared for her equipment. Pulling off her belt, she groaned in pain. Myiin winced as she laid the belt on the table and started pulling the vials from the garment and placing them back on the shelves.
It was a miracle none of the glass containers had been broken during her fall. She had made the mistake of mixing multiple alchemical compounds before; it was hard to convince a contractor that their mark was dead when nothing remained as evidence.
Withdrawing the pistol under her left arm she dropped the magazine and locked the slide open. Her inspection was quick and thorough; there was no wear on the weapon, and the barrel was clear. Myiin drew, and checked the other pistol.
The propellant that fueled her bullets had taken four months to get right, but as soon as she had found the correct proportions she had left gun powder behind. Her shots radiated with a bright blue flash and emanated no sound.
Using her thumb, she slid the remaining two rounds out of the magazine and set them to the side. In moments, Myiin had both pistols reloaded and in their holsters. The reassuring weight of the full magazine eased the tension in the far reaches of her mind.
Retreating from her workshop, she stepped back into the main hall. She undid the clips that held her hair wrapped on her head. Her dark red, shoulder length hair, fell flat; soaked from the rain.
Myiin stopped and looked around.
This place was her home, the top floor of the Royal Library. These floors were closed by a Royal decree and abandoned over a hundred years ago. She had stumbled into the rooms by accident, wounded and cold; now it gave her everything she needed.
Myiin glanced at the books lining the walls, the space held hundreds of volumes. She had generations’ worth of information about the Shrouded.
“You could stand to soften this place a little, Myiin.” The voice was musical, and it wafted to Myiin like the fragrance of sweet rose. A smile split her face as she turned towards the voice and dropped to her knee.
“Myiin, really! How long have we been friends, stand up!”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
“Stop it. Right now!”
Myiin stood, and her eyes floated up the woman standing in front of her. A royal gown of shimmering, deep blue folds tightly wrapped around the Queen’s petite waist. Long, golden blonde hair curled and twisted down to her knees and reflected the candlelight. A luminescence framed the Queen and bathed her in a gentle, almost angelic, glow.
Her gaze stopped at the woman’s chin. It was improper to look directly at the Queen…
A delicate finger lifted Myiin’s face, forcing her to meet the Queen’s eyes. She took in Belyneen’s porcelain, perfect skin, soft facial lines, and her deep, green eyes.
Myiin felt her breath taken away; she always reacted that way whenever she met that gaze.
Those eyes had always managed to pierce Myiin’s soul. Behind that look, Myiin remembered the comfort, love, and protection that were given to her. She felt heat rising in her cheeks.
“Has so much changed, Myiin?” Within that deep green gaze, Myiin saw the pain the other woman felt at having to ask the question.
“Your Majesty-” Those green eyes flashed something dangerous, and Myiin swallowed hard. “Belyneen, how?”
The woman’s laugh filled the room. “I wonder, to which “how” you are referring. There are a few aren’t there, Myiin? Although, I could ask how you ended up in such a mess!” The Queen’s gaze traveled over Myiin.
“How did you find me?” The words blurted from Myiin’s mouth containing an edge of accusation, revealing the violation she had not realized she felt. Her eyes went wide at the blush that suddenly entered the Queen’s face; in a flash that splash of red on her cheeks disappeared.
“Myiin, did you really think I would not find you?” She said softly. “After all the years we spent together? I’ve known you were here for over three years. Do not look so shocked, who do you think keeps people away? Who do you think sends you work?” Sadness entered her words as she looked around the room. “It should not have been like this.”
Shame bloomed in Myiin.
“Do not say it Myiin, I know that look! I have missed you, and you have been away from me for far too long.”
“What was I to do?” Myiin felt her fear fueling her lack of decorum. The horror of how she had left her friend.
Belyneen smiled at her; it was a warm smile.
The Queen shook her head, “Myiin, I need you to come back to the palace… for me.”
“My place was not, is not there Belyneen. You were my friend and made my life comfortable, by the Righteous I know what price you paid to protect me… but things are different now. I-I’m too much of a liability. What would happen to you?”
Myiin did not know the impact her words would have, but as they came, she knew them to be true. She watched the regal and commanding woman wilt.
“No, I’m sorry Belyneen, I am an unmarked Shroud, and I was a servant, a confidant. The laws concerning my kind are absolute, even for a Quee-”
“You were my friend.” The Queen’s words were soft. “And you would have been my Heart.”
Strength flooded back into those fierce green eyes. “I care not if people find out that I kept you from your marks! By the Righteous and all nine Riders of the Night, I would cast down everything I am to keep you from that fate! Something is very wrong and by the Creator, I do not care!”
Myiin felt her knees give out, and she sank down into a chair. Wonder filled her as she looked at Belyneen. The Queen had all but abdicated her life with those words. How could she still stand after calling the Creator?
But she did.
Belyneen’s chin was raised slightly, her back straight. Her eyes were alive without a single hint of fear or reservation.
“Bel… I…” Myiin’s voice shook, and she could feel her chest tightening from the intensity of her friends words. When she spoke her words came out in a whisper. “I’ll go.”
Belyneen’s face lit up, for a moment she was the brightest thing in the room.
The shock of the moment began to fade, and Myiin looked at the woman opposite her. “If you wished me to remain hidden, why did you bring the RSF?”
Fear flashed across Belyneen’s face. “What!?!”
“Outside, the building is surrounded, are they not here to protect you?”
Belyneen’s hands rubbed her midsection. “No, Myiin, they are not here for me… No one knows I’m here; no one could know…”
“If they are not here for you, why are they here?”
“Him…? No, that is not right either; it can’t…” Belyneen paced, her words were soft, and her tone was filling with emotion.
“Him? The King? He’s here?” Myiin was on her feet in an instant, her pistols were in her hands and she scanned the room looking for her markers, none of her alarms indicated an intruder. With the traps, she had set she would know when someone was coming. The thought froze in her mind…
“Belyneen, how did you get here?”
The Queen turned slowly and looked into Myiin’s eyes, those dark, deep eyes. “I am not here, just in your mind. Everything you see around you is true, except for me…”
“How?” Myiin tried to keep her tone steady.
A sympathetic look entered the Queen’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Myiin. I wish I would have come to you sooner. My thoughts were drifting, and I thought of you, and then I was here. I think my body is still lying in the palace. The marble basin they placed me on was so cold.” A flash of pain flickered on the Queen’s face.
“What?! What’s happening Belyneen?”
“I-I don’t know what he’s trying to do, Myiin. But knowing that you would come to help me… that’s all I needed.”
“Did the King do something to you?” Rage was boiling within Myiin. Belyneen looked at her, eyes flickering emotions…
With a look of excruciating pain, the Queen vanished.
Myiin tried to put things into place. They had touched. She had felt Belyneen’s finger… Her memories floated through her mind and this time everything felt like an echo of what had been.
Back in her workshop Myiin pulled her wet blouse off and grabbed her bandages. She wrapped her midsection with fabric and grimaced in pain at the tightness that enveloped her. Stepping up to the cabinet of vials her hand grabbed a container. Her eyes glanced over the words that had been written on the tube, but she did not see them, she did not need to, she knew exactly what was going to happen.
Pulling the stopper off the vial she downed the liquid.Her body doubled over as she coughed. Myiin’s eyes watered and she cried out in pain. Anguish radiated from her throat to her stomach. It took minutes for her to draw a breath. Moments later she pushed herself up from the floor and left the workshop.
She no longer felt the pain from her bruised and battered body; the liquid had done its work. Myiin knew the price that she would pay for using the concoction. With as much as she had consumed, she had bought herself five, maybe six hours of relief. Once the vial’s contents had worked through her body… She would deal with that horror later.
Myiin grabbed her throwing knives, the vials of flash light, her stoppers of crawling smoke, all of the magazines she could carry, and the sword that she received in secret. That blade was a royal treasure given to her by Belyneen after Myiin had stopped an assassin that had come for Belyneen’s parents.
The rage that had boiled before turned instantly to cold determination. She would have to deal with the King and the RSF here. Then she would save Belyneen.
A little voice in the back of her head told her it was folly, that there was no way the Queen would still live when she got there.
Myiin executed that voice.
The door that stood locked and holding back the world from Myiin’s sanctuary exploded in a silent shower of falling wood chips. Crossing the threshold she could already feel the vapors, smoking from her body. She did not remember drawing the power into her, but she did not push it away.
Myiin felt her body’s fluid motion, stepping around, over, and ducking under her hidden traps. There had been no time to disengage the destructive devices she had created.
Trying to calm her emotions she crouched by the last door before the library proper. The weapon in her left hand slid silently back into her holster, and she pulled the door open.
A look of surprise crossed the face of a female RSF member a moment before her body fell to the ground, a knife stuck in her throat. She was silent within her death, and Myiin stepped over the body.
A Roaming sentry, they don’t know my position or she would not have been alone.
Myiin needed to find the King. The man could be anywhere within the labyrinth of bookshelves, and she was running out of time. Her heightened senses heard the sound of boots moving towards her as she reached the archway.
The rain was pounding the windows and roof. Myiin forced those sounds into oblivion and focused her senses. Faintly she heard pages being shuffled.
Marking the direction she started to think through her approach. Everything was a jumble, Myiin could not tell how many people were in the library, but she knew they were coming for her.
She knew they would feel the woman’s death in seconds, but she had hoped they were not true members of the Royal Security Force. Myiin cursed the mental link that the RSF members shared.
Stepping out onto the balcony she fired twice and two more bodies fell to the ground.
Cries of alarm flew through the air.
The dance had begun.
Myiin crossed the distance to the balcony railing and flung herself into the nothingness. They will move the King; try to get him to safety. Flipping once she landed on her feet atop a bookshelf and threw her body into motion.
Sounds filled the expanse. Moving bodies. Commands. Curses. Gunfire. It all mixed into a symphony of movement.
She did not pause to listen. Myiin rode on the noise as a lark rides on a late summer’s breeze. Placing her shots with a power enhanced accuracy she laid out the bodies that approached.
A cry flew from her mouth the second before the wooden bookcase shelves disintegrated under her falling body. A concussion gun? The blast knocked her off of the top of the bookcase. She felt the weight of the volumes crash onto her back.
Myiin pushed herself onto her hands and knees, her chest wasn’t accepting air.
Myiin’s legs started to move out of instinct. Pushing with her hands she forced her body into a run, her boots slipped on the books scattered on the floor and she fell again. She thanked the contents of the vial that she could not feel the pain her body was experiencing.
Lunging for the pistol she had dropped her hands wrapped around the grip as an Black form rounded the aisle. Her shots flew wide of her target but the man retreated for cover. RSF bullets obliterated the books around her. Myiin hesitated and saw the scraps of paper falling around her like snow.
No control! The bastards are destroying everything!
Her chest relaxed and her boots found traction, she started moving again.
Arriving at the hallway where the impression of her prey had originated, she paused at the opening. There was no movement within. Either she was too late or they were trying to hide him.
It was a narrow corridor, a killing ground, and at the end they could form a barricade to keep him secure. This place had been chosen.
Reaching into her pouch, she pulled out a vial and removed the stopper. Myiin could see her hand shaking violently, but she couldn’t feel it. “Never, I’ve never used the vial and magic together…”
No time, deal with it later.
The space immediately began to grow darker. In moments the hallway was filled with smoke. Myiin reached out to the vapors and began to direct its expansion.
The power continued to flow through her as she conducted the murk. Myiin used the smoke to see where her eyes could not. There was nothing visible in the darkness, but she could feel through the fog and that told her what she needed to know.
Wrapping the growing mist around forms at the other end of the hallway, she could feel the heartbeats of the living. Her heartbeat was steady and in control, the RSF’s were heightened but maintained, and she found one racing with fear.
She had her prey.
Her footfalls were hidden by the damp thickness of the air, so she moved with speed. Plunging down the hallway, she knew every nook and detail of the space.
Diving into the room, she dropped the two forms by the door with a shot to the head from each pistol. Tucking her body she rolled and listened to the men and women trying to find her. Four more blinding muzzle flashes and only three heartbeats remained.
Myiin pushed through the power; the haze cleared and formed into a ring, the three of them at its center.
“What did you do to Belyneen?” She demanded. The King’s Blood stood between them with his sword drawn and poised to attack. Myiin ignored him.
The color drained from the King’s face… only, the face was wrong. Myiin had seen the man on a few occasions since he had wed Belyneen. This was not that man.
A spike of fear speared her core.
“Where is the King?” The pieces of the scene began to fall into place. The King’s Blood’s uniform was wrong; it had different lapels and ornaments.
“So,” the man who was not the King replied. “An assassination attempt on the King, on the eve of his Grace’s glory; that is interesting…”
He looked her up and down slowly. “Red hair, good with weapons, and a Shroud? You couldn’t be, could you? After all these years, we had wondered what had become of you, now we know.” The man chuckled, smug in his moment.
It was that sound that Myiin remembered. “Trynd.” Myiin snarled the name.
“You remember me?” There was pride in his voice.
“Clearly you are still begging for the scraps. How many years has it taken you to gain the King’s confidence?”
Trynd cackled again and an amused smile crossed his face.
“Where is Belyneen!”
“Belyneen?” He asked, his eyes glazing over. “It is truly a shame that you were not the Queen’s Heart, Myiin. Had you been with her, her chance to live might have been greater.”
“What is going on here?” Myiin’s anger was climbing, and this fool was toying with her?
“Nothing, absolutely nothing is going on… here.” The words came out with their intended emphasis.
Custom dictated that she fight the King’s Blood, blade to blade; there was no hesitation in Myiin’s movements. The man dressed as the King’s Blood dropped to the ground, a new hole in his head. She walked slowly towards the man who had been mocking her. Each step drew her nearer to the man, and she drank in more power.
“You do not frighten me Shroud! I have given my life to his Majesty, I’ll gladly give-” The words ceased from the man, an instant before the fog swallowed his howls of pain.
Myiin left the room at a run continuing to use the smoke to guide her. Within the darkness, the gathered RSF could not see her, but that did not stop Myiin from using the fake Blood’s blade to decimate the men and women who had laid this trap.
Through the pounding in her ears she heard cries of alarm and terror, of gunfire, and weapons being reloaded. Myiin waltzed, and decimated their numbers. Through the smoke she felt errant bullets strike unintended targets.
She was a phantom of death.
As the room grew still the clatter of steel striking the marble floor reverberated against the walls and bookshelves. Myiin had waisted enough time. The RSF would search through the dead and injured, her reign of destruction would buy her an hour, maybe two. It was past time to leave this place.
Out in the night, Myiin could feel her hatred, it was a feeling she had never known. Now it burned like an inferno within her.
They were offering Belyneen as a sacrifice, a catalyst to launch another war.
The fake King did not have the details, but his mutters and stammers told her enough. Belyneen’s assassination would drive the nation into a frenzy. While the merchant’s and the kingdom’s elite would have seen the RSF at the library as they bounced between social obligations to secure his alibi.
The man’s details were convoluted, and within the holes Myiin’s mind envisioned the horrors that were being exacted on Belyneen. The Queen would no longer be the same woman Myiin knew; if she lived through the torture.
All Myiin knew for certain was that her only friend’s soul began walking towards the Halls of the Eight over four hours ago.
The palace was less than half a kilometer away when Myiin leapt from the streets and began to run along the rooftops, the motion was one movement. As her foot touched down on the building she felt the rain fall away, the storm in the sky was over.
In the back of her mind she thought about the limits she had left far behind. The caution she had forced on herself for years was no longer valid.
Myiin felt guilt hiding behind the revelry. To wield this much power? Never in her life had she moved as she did now. Images popped into her head, uses of her powers that she had never contemplated.
She wondered if this was what it had been like for the Shrouded before the war, before they were forced into slavery.
At the last line of buildings, she kicked off of the roof and flew through the air. Myiin felt herself smile as she sailed over the square before the main gate and the wall around the palace.
Myiin did not know how long she would have; the Shrouded within the palace would all know she was there. They could sense each other when they were using their powers and with as much as she was using now they probably felt her presence blocks ago.
Myiin felt nothing.
That was odd. The palace usually had Shroudlings performing duties all day and the night.
The guards at the main entrance to the palace glanced in her direction, the halo of light illuminating them destroyed their vision in the darkness, and her form remained hidden.
She jumped over their heads and began to scale the wall. Allowing her instincts control over her powers they held her against the flat of the surface.
Myiin flew over the railing on the fourth story and dropped both sentries with her throwing knives. Neither made a sound.
She pressed her ear against the door to the palace proper, the room sounded clear. Opening the door, she felt the sudden influx of power and knew a trap was sprung.
Myiin cleared the door with a firm push from her legs. She rose above the portal as it exploded in wooden shards. The after image of orange light tried to blind her, but she used the change in her vision. Hanging upside down she peered through the door and found the Shroud, the face tattoos were clear, and her aim was accurate.
Three bullets broke through a hastily erected barrier and the child’s shriek of pain echoed within the walls. Myiin drove the sound away as she laid out the bodies of the remaining guards.
Dropping from the wall, she entered the room and checked her magazines, five rounds remaining in one, four in the other. She reloaded the pistols and her gaze traveled across the room, lingering for a moment on the body of the Shrouded.
He was a boy, not yet old enough to shave… But his King had used him as a tool, and she had broken him like one.
That was all.
Myiin ventured deeper into the palace. Despite the years that had passed since she roamed these halls, she still knew them. It was a bitter-sweet knowledge.
She knew the action would be futile but she checked the Queen’s chambers first. In their haste to capture her they may have left some indication of where in the palace she would be.
Myiin found a chamber of death.
All around her were the bodies of the women who had lived for Belyneen… Myiin thought she had prepared herself for this, but seeing it shook her.
The Queen had been dressing for bed when the King had come for her. These women had run away from Belyneen’s dressing chamber armed with wisps of silk, hairbrushes, and Belyneen’s slippers. They had died in the middle of the room. They had rushed to see the face of death, buying the moments for Belyneen’s escape with their lives.
Myiin pushed down her horror; she would weep later for lives of the women that she had grown up with and cherished like sisters.
The room blurred as she crossed the space and into the dressing chamber.
At the back of the room, the door to the secret passage was gone, debris was scattered around the alcove. That portal was known only to the Queen and her Heart. She darted into the small hallway and felt the pieces of wood under her feet. Each step quickened her stride and increased her terror.
The pathway opened into a small square, three paths left from this spot. There was no indication of where each path would lead. Only the two who knew of this places existence knew where they would let out.
Myiin did not have to wonder which path the pair used to escape. It was clear no threshold was crossed. Deergin’s body lay in a heap in the middle of the room. Myiin knew her friend. Belyneen would have tried to defend the woman despite the fact her soul had gone to the Halls.
This was the spot where they had captured her.
Turning from the square Myiin ran back to the Queen’s chambers. According to what Belyneen had said she was somewhere deep within the palace.
Cries of alarm followed the impression of her presence as she flew through the palace. She ignored them.
Myiin passed corridors and halls in her flight; thoughts of the time she had spent within these walls tried to cloud her mind. Myiin forced them away.
Two floors below the main hall, she stopped on a landing. Three passageways branched before her. The stairs continued their downward spiral behind her. The second path would lead her to the kitchens. She had no memory of the third. It was the third path that gave her a slight echo, a reverberation within her powers.
This pathway had been created by Shrouds.
Slightly sloping, the hallway was narrow and straight. Myiin ran down the corridor towards the weak light coming from the far end.
The light before her beckoned and she obliged the meeting. She broke into the harsh, sudden brightness with fierce determination. Around her, the walls shot away as she entered a large domed room.
Belyneen, draped in a thin veil of white, was lying on a marble dais in the middle of the room.
The air was still as Myiin took in the circle of Shrouds that ringed the room. Eighteen. Her survey ended when she saw the balcony a floor above her. It contained the King, his Blood, and several hooded figures.
A sigh filled the silence, quickly followed by his thin, high-pitched, and arrogant voice. “Well, that was uneventful. Kye, it would appear your research was incorrect.” Somewhere around the King the sound of shuffling feet could be heard.
“We are done here. Destroy the experiment, kill the newcomer, proceed with the war plans, prepare the Knight’s for immediate deployment.” The King relayed his orders, turned, and left the balcony without another word.
Around Myiin, vapors flowed from the bodies of the Shroudlings. An inferno materialized above Belyneen’s body, it was the same spell the palace Shrouds used to dispose of trash. In a group this large the fire manifested itself as a tempest of flame so volatile that she thought it would eradicate her as it seized all of her sensations.
Myiin’s scream of anguish rose to command the room.
Meters above Belyneen’s body, the tempest ceased to exist. The Shrouds turned to look at her as if seeing her for the first time.
Fury, rage, anger, and hate melted together, Myiin did not hesitate as she pulled the pistol’s triggers.
These were Shrouds who had been raised to use their powers for menial tasks. They had been tucked away in quiet places, forbidden to see violence.
They saw it now.
Myiin smiled as she saw the slave’s humanity restore itself. Self-preservation overrode years of punishment and oppression. Some tried use spells to protect themselves, by the Righteous there would be no protection for any of them.
Streams of fire, lashes of air, waves of water, all tried to upend Myiin, but she had used her powers for violence for years. Her enemies were infants to their true potential.
The pistol in her left hand fell to the ground. Myiin could not make her muscles respond. Looking down she saw the blisters forming on the flesh of her arm, a portion of her blouse was gone.
Myiin found herself standing in the middle of the room.
She emptied her remaining pistol and threw the weapon at a Shroud, who had come too close. Given the surprise on his face he had not expected such a tactic. The metal struck him between the eyes a moment before Myiin crushed his ribcage with a gust of air and threw the broken form into another body.
Without her pistol, a man and woman thought to overpower her. Their rush attack ended upon the blade of her sword. They had not expected her to draw the weapon that quickly.
Myiin blinked and looked around the room, everything had become still.
The sword fell to the floor as her body crumpled in on itself. With everything that had happened, Myiin had kept Belyneen’s body safe. A bitter-sweet smile crossed her face.
It took time, but Myiin pulled herself together. She wrapped her left arm in magic, but she could still see the redness through the thick black of her concentrated vapors.
Myiin gathered the Queen into her arms and stood. The first vial of smoke smashed on the ground and she wrapped them in darkness so deep no one would perceive their existence.
As she carried Belyneen’s body, Myiin felt glyphs cut in intricate patterns across her back and wondered why they taken so much trouble. They had let her bleed slowly to death… then the Shrouds resealed the wounds?
Rage tried to stir within her, but the pain smothered everything.
Myiin barely registered her surprise to find the main door to the palace blown open, the guards dead. The King’s assassination plot was already manifesting itself.
Out in the night, the rain soaked ground provided a thick layer of fog. Myiin combined the fog with another vial of smoke and slowly moved back to library.
Gently she wiped the strands of hair off of the Queen’s face. Belyneen’s expression was calm. It was the simple lack of pain, terror, or even discomfort on that face that hurt Myiin and gave her strength.
Belyneen had found peace.
Myiin sat on the bed and looked at her friend. Her only friend. Belyneen was the woman who had saved her from the life of those whom she had slaughtered. In the stillness, only her tears of anguish moved. Her mind chastised her lack of motion, screamed for her to take vengeance until it too fell silent.
The King would come for her; he would probably burn the library to keep his secret. She needed to move but she couldn’t.
The soft rustle of the sheets accepted her movements as she lay down. How many nights had they spent talking about the future? Making plans for how things would be when Belyneen was Queen and Myiin her Heart. Both of them trying to stay awake long enough to watch the stars shoot across the sky before dawn.
They had been riding in the woods when Myiin’s life changed.
Belyneen’s mother had forbidden the trip to the springs and everything Myiin had done to talk Belyneen out of the journey had proven useless. All that was left was for Myiin to not let the Princess go alone.
As they rode through the afternoon Myiin had felt something stirring within her; it was not until they stopped to water the horses and have their stolen breakfasts’ that reality came crashing home.
There was no warning.
Everyone had heard, time and again, about what was required after the claiming. How once the powers manifested it was the responsibility of every citizen to offer the “chosen” to serve the people. After. At that moment, Myiin understood why no one talked about what happened during the claiming.
When Myiin’s eyes opened, it was dusk and two things occupied her being. The first was a feeling, an impression upon her mind. The nine Riders had chosen her for this burden. She could still feel the imprint of their essences on her soul. At the edge of her terror that perception was impatiently held back by the feeling of warmth on her skin.
Myiin blinked, and she felt her tears, yet she looked up and saw Belyneen’s comforting and resolute face. The woman had not left her side and had used her lap to support Myiin’s head after she had blacked out.
Panic consumed Myiin as she comprehended what had happened after the world went black. The Princess held Myiin as she cried.
Belyneen comforted Myiin at the worst moment of her life, and from that moment Myiin knew she would do anything for her.
It was Belyneen who orchestrated the plan that would give them time to deal with Myiin’s change. She had even killed one of her own horses…
Gasping for air Myiin sat upright on the bed.
She rose from the bed and took a step towards the main chamber when everything slammed into place…
Belyneen’s body was not on the bed.
She reached for her weapons and cursed herself. Myiin had left them under the dome, deep within the palace. Her raw emotions at seeing Belyneen had blocked her innate sense of self preservation, it was a costly mistake.
Myiin tried to reach out to her powers, but they did not heed her call. Panicked, she felt her curiosity overcome her feeling of helplessness and her steps directed her towards a soft, pure, white light.
Her mind felt detached from her body. Myiin’s thoughts ran wild while her body crawled forward.
Whatever was around the corner there was nothing she could do to protect herself. She could fight with her hands, but if they had weapons drawn she would not be able to get close enough.
Myiin felt the cool of the stone through the tears in the fabric of her blouse. She reached the doorway and her pulse raced, her breaths were coming in ragged spurts.
Myiin felt her body move into the archway. There was nothing her mind could do to stop it.
Blinking, Myiin’s pupils dilated.
Belyneen was standing the middle of the room. Her chest rose and fell in an even cadence, the rhythm of life. A small smile dawned on her face.
Myiin tried to smile back, but her terror held her immovable. A white, vaporous glow radiated from the Queen.
Thank you for reading Shroud! I hope enjoyed it.
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