Tales From a Thousand Worlds

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The Red Blade – Part Twelve

sml_The Red Blade

The Red Blade

Part Twelve – Repercussions

Alsharak Abban, despite the words and fears of Athradies, had not proven as hard to track down as first expected, for he did not hide himself as he felt he had nothing to fear. That had proved a fatal miscalculation, for the Red Blade had snatched his life as well. Nor had he been the last to taste the touch of the Red Blade, for others followed, men of the various city-states of the Swordlands, or from far off lands beyond; Akuvians, Cahdians and Ishmarites, Metsheputi, Hashalites and Navodians, and more besides. And each time he took one of them, the pull of the sword grew stronger, more assured in its purpose, and yet the victims harder to find, their guards and wards more fiendish to evade, and their lives harder to take.

For all his successes, and for Athradies growing joy at their progress, Carse did not partake of it. A sense of tiredness seeped into his body, a coldness that he could not shake as it seemed too radiated out from his very bones. Not for the first time he felt as if, crazy as the thought sounded, the Red Blade was taking control, and that, if anything, he was becoming but a tool for its thirst for blood.

More and more time he spent in the taverns, decked out in his new finery, drinking wine in an effort to seek some solace, and listening to the words of the people. Much of the earlier mood had changed, for many now lived in fear that a killer was on the loose, yet there still existed as many who still supported the actions of the Red Blade. As people talked, and argued, he could fell an edge to their words, of restraint fraying, of a blaze ready to burst aflame and tear through the city. A concern gripped him that it all could spiral rapidly out of control, and yet he could not convince Athradies of that danger, though perhaps he did not want to see it. He had his mind set on a gaol, and naught would dissuade him of that.

After an evening spent in one of the taverns, he slipped out as another heated argument came to the fore, attempting as best he could to put it out of his mind. Athradies had another target for him that night, and he needed to prepare for it, though the desire that he had once felt for it had faded to ashes in his mouth.

As he neared the small abode he kept, his senses came alert, for the tiny marker he had left upon the door had been disturbed, a sign someone had been around. He flowed silently to the door, his hand on the hilt of the Red Blade. He turned the handle with slow, careful movements, opening it but a fraction to enable him to peer through. Through the narrow gap he could see the bed, and a man seated upon it. A thin man dressed all in black, he sat cross legged, with his eyes closed. He had a gaunt face, with a pointed blue-black beard and the dusky skin that marked him as a Hashalite or Ishmarite.

Carse let the door open further. He had oiled the hinges so they made no sound to betray its opening. On silent feet he crept in to the shack. He did not think it likely that the man could hear his approach, yet even so the seated man moved in a sudden blur before Carse could react, his hand taking up a small crossbow that had sat on the bed beside him, aiming it towards Carse, all without opening his eyes. Carse froze, his hand locked about the hilt of the Red Blade, and his eyes focused on the crossbow pointed at him.

“Do come in,” the man said, opening his eyes at last. “I have been expecting you.” There was no threat in the words, nor hostility, but nor did it contain any hint of friendliness. If anything, Carse found it had a business like tone to it, and he did not know whether that was for the good or not.

Carse found himself with few options but to obey, for he knew that to attempt anything would be to risk death from the crossbow. It may have been small, but at such a close range, it would not miss, and would be just as lethal as a larger weapon.

“What is it you want?” he asked.

“As it turns out, you,” the man replied, a smile both grim and amused momentarily appearing across his hard face. “I seek Carse, or to be more specific, the Red Blade.”

Carse let his face go blank at the words, so as not to permit any emotions or reactions betray him. He said nothing, waiting for the man to go on.

“No denials? Not that it matters. We know who you are. You have been a thorn in the side of many, lad, and I am paid to remove such thorns.”

“If you were here to kill me, then why have you not done so already?”

“It was not a simple matter to find you,” the man explained, his dark eyes never wavering as they looked at Carse. “It required some work, and I followed your progress with interest as I did so. You have a real talent, one that with proper training could prove formidable, and as a result it would be a waste to simply kill you.”

Carse blinked, hiding best he could the puzzlement he felt. “What is it you are suggesting?”

“I was called up to this place from Qaiqala, from where my employer hired the services of my Brotherhood. You know of these?” Carse gave a barely perceptible shake of his head. The man showed no reaction to the answer, simply continuing on. “The Brotherhoods are commissioned to remove obstacles.”

“Assassins then.”

“So some call us. Our Brotherhoods are in competition with each other, beholden to various factions within Qaiqala. As a result, when we see talent, we recruit it. You I could kill here and now, but it would suit our purposes far better if you were to join us.”

“What of your employer?” Carse inquired, still holding perfectly still. “Would he not object to you failing in your mission?”

Another little grimly amused smile followed. “He asked us only to deal with the killer on the loose, and did not mention how we should do so. A mistake on his part, it would seem. Yet we shall do as he asked, even if not what he intended. Previous, your killings suited his purpose, for they weeded out the competition, but now it ends. It has ended.”

Carse ran through the list of potential people it could be, for his actions had thinned out their numbers considerably. “It can only be Borvodan the Navodian you speak of,” he concluded.

The assassin responded with a hint of a shrug. “If it is or isn’t, it matters little. I will give you this night only to consider matters. Tomorrow I will ask you again, and for your sake the answer had best be to agree to my proposal. Only this time will I ask you, for after that you become my target.” Smoothly he rose from the bed, the crossbow still trained upon Carse. With his free hand he tossed an item to Carse. Catching it, Carse saw the pouch that he had he had kept in the chest, the one with the coins and rings. It had been emptied. “An ingenious little trap,” the assassin complimented Carse, “But as you can see it was no obstacle to me. Let that be a lesson and a warning both.” With that he departed the shack, slipping away into the city.

Carse let out the breath he had held for most of the assassin’s visit upon his departure, both relieved and inwardly enraged. Enraged that the sanctity of his place had been broached, that his wealth had been stolen, and more so, that they knew who he was. He stopped short at the last thought. If they knew who he was, then they knew of Athradies as well. A cold sweat touched him and in near panic he left, running for the villa.

~~~~

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