The Assassin

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It was a blistering summer day.

Rylow’s lean, massive frame racked with uncontrollable shivers. He pulled his hood even further over his head and wrapped his cloak even tighter. Rylow would lose the majestic, intimidating effect of a billowing cloak, but on that bright summer day, he didn’t care.

It was utterly, bone-chillingly, marrow-freezingly icy.

Rylow tried to stop his teeth from chattering, to no avail. Of all the things he had faced on his long, gruelling journey to Demtris, this was the worst. He had sailed across the perilous Pelanias Ocean, crossed the most treacherous mountain range in the continent, and even jumped across fiery lakes infested with lava-dragons. At least that was nice and balmy. This was not.

He couldn’t remember a time in his life he had been this cold. Then again, he hadn’t stepped out of his volcano palace in years, if not decades, and he had never crossed the borders of his native desert in his life.

At least it was summer. He couldn’t imagine what winter would feel like.

No one around him gave any signs of feeling the blizzard that seemed to swirl around him as he stumbled through the small town of Frue. A young couple walked hand in hand behind him, remarking on how refreshing the small breeze felt in the relentless sun.

He nearly choked but stopped himself just in time. That would be much too undignified for a powerful evil overlord like himself.

The cobblestone streets passed underneath his boots. Rylow took note of every one, mainly because his head was bent down against the wind. Breeze. Whatever. He was sure he looked drunk, or insane, or very, very ill to be stumbling and shivering along while barefoot children skipped by in thin tunics and summer dresses.

The thought of himself reduced to that level infuriated him, but only briefly, because he was too occupied with freezing. His cloak would not be enough, and he was sure his toes, fingers, and lips were blue. If he was ever to find the assassin he had travelled for months to see, he would need warmer clothes.

Rylow managed to find the town’s local merchandise shop which sold mainly clothes and personal accessories. It was slightly less cold inside, but the sight of the clerks sweating and fanning themselves made him angry. How were they not so cold?

As Rylow wandered through the shop, ignoring strange looks cast his way, his spirits fell one step at a time. Not a single glove was in sight, unless gardening ones counted, which they assuredly did not. So he was forced to ask the aid of a clerk, and if not for his frozen fingers, he would have whipped out his sword and made the asking much more quickly.

Alas for frozen fingers.

“Good afternoon, sir, how can I help you?”

Rylow mustered all his willpower to stop his teeth from chattering and his voice from trembling. Being on evil overlord, he fortunately had a lot of willpower. “I need winter gear.”

The clerk, who couldn’t have been more than fifteen, forced a polite smile. “Sorry sir, we currently don’t have any winter gear in stock.”

Rylow grit his teeth. “Why not?”

“Um, it’s the middle of summer, sir.”

“No leftovers from last winter?”

“I don’t think so, but I’ll check just in case.”

He scurried into the back of the shop and returned a moment later, his arms full with a fur cloak, thick gloves, and extra thick socks.

“You’re in luck, sir.” The clerk plunked the items down on the wooden counter. “Winter gear straight from Dreftillion. It’s a rarity.” He wrote some figures down. “That’ll be sixty demii.”

Rylow slammed his hands down on the counter, towering over the startled young clerk. A few customers glanced his way with worried faces, but he didn’t care.

Sixty demii?”

“Y-yes, sir.”

“Why so much?”

“I-it’s the off-season f-for those items, sir.”

“Shouldn’t that make it less expensive?”

The clerk trembled. The top of his head didn’t even come to Rylow’s neck, and his entire muscle mass was probably equal to the muscles in Rylow’s little finger. “I-I didn’t make the prices, sir. I-if you have a problem, you can talk with the shop owner.”

Rylow considered this but decided that he was far too cold and had wasted enough time already. He took out his money bag and threw the appropriate number of coins onto the counter, sweeping up his purchased items and marching out the door.

People in the shop watched him leave and whispered to each other, something he realized was not to his benefit. He didn’t want the townsfolk to recognize him or spread rumours about him, alerting his presence to other more dangerous folk.

Like Ethgar the Efficient.

So he felt obliged to look as casually normal as possible. Being the only one in town clothed in heavy furs and armed to the teeth with weapons, looking normal would be quite a challenge, but at least he had made the wise decision to leave his minions in their camp deep in the forest.

Rylow quickly donned his new apparel and continued on his way to the edge of town, pretending he was going on a hunt in the snowy mountains. He wasn’t sure how successful he was, but presently the inn he had spent several painful months searching for, The Crackling Chestnuts, appeared on his left.

Swinging the door open, Rylow was met with the loud roar of chatter, mugs clanking, people singing and dancing, and silverware dropping. The noises of the most popular inn in town.

Even with the windows open, it was much warmer in there, probably stiflingly stuffy for those odd people, but for Rylow the heat was welcomed, bringing life back into his limbs. He took off his gloves and left his hood on so as to keep his mysteriousness.

Rylow roughly manoeuvred his way through waitresses and crowded tables, headed straight for the bar in the back where the owner was serving up drinks. It was hard to see with smoke billowing around the sparse candles, but eventually he made it. No one paid him any attention in the hustle and bustle, until he slammed his palms down on the counter.

The owner’s face, old and worn with the wrinkles of hard work, was glowing in the golden light of the hearth and of his radiant smile, which probably could lighten many people’s spirits. Rylow thought it looked mocking.

“Good day to you, sir! Sorry to keep you waitin’. Nice ring you got there. Does it stand for anythin’?”

Rylow instinctively glanced down. It had a flame shaped gemstone of rich orange, and inside the gem was carved a ruby lava-dragon. It was easily noticeable, but that was the point. It was his signature, his identity as a villain. It certainly stood for something: using the flames of power to devour everything, even things as formidable as a lava-dragon.

But he wasn’t about to tell the owner that. The old man might tell others, who might tell others, who might tell Ethgar that he was in town. Ethgar would recognize the ring as his instantly.

Rylow leaned over the counter, towering over the old man. A glance from his name tag showed him to be a certain Nulyck.

“It stands for keeping your thoughts to yourself, Nulyck. The one who sticks his nose into everything is bound to get more than he bargained for.”

The owner’s smile drained off his face. “Aye. S’pose so.”

Rylow’s voice lowered. “I’m looking for someone.”

Nulyck handed a little boy a glass of appleberry juice. “Who?”

“It’s a girl.” Rylow leaned in closer. “They say she’s the most lethal assassin in Demtris. Never fails. Do you know her?”

Nulyck swallowed as he picked up a wet glass. “Aye, I believe I do. Comes ‘ere a lot for ‘er clients, though I never see more of ‘er than the back of her hood.”

“Is she here now?”

“Aye.” He wiped the glass with a rag and nodded to a dark corner of the tavern. “Over there, in the corner. The lass likes to sit undisturbed.”

Rylow didn’t bother thanking him as he pushed off the counter.

Nulyck swallowed hard, again. He’d worked at the inn-and-tavern for over thirty years, often dealing with shady strangers, but none like that one. Icy fingers had numbed Nulyck’s spine the instant the man had stepped into the room. Who wore such a thick coat in the middle of summer, and with such strange furs? Why had Nulyck shivered when the man spoke? What was the secret of that ring? It all made him uneasy.

The faster the stranger left The Crackling Chestnuts, the better.

Rylow wasn’t, unfortunately, leaving anytime soon. As he plowed through the merrymaking people, he stepped on a fair number of boots and shoved a fair amount of shoulders, but eventually he arrived at the corner specified. To his annoyance, no one was there except a little girl with braided pigtails who was busy coloring what looked like a unicorn while she munched from a bowl of roasted chestnuts.

Rylow stood in front of her, leaning down to her eye level. She glanced up with large brown eyes and didn’t seem at all concerned about his threatening stance.

“Hi. What can I do for you?”

Rylow glared at her with all the force of an evil overlord, but still her solid eye contact didn’t waver. “Look, girl. I’m in a hurry, and if you answer me quickly, it’ll go much better for you. I’m looking for the most lethal assassin in Demtris. You know her?”

The girl instantly assumed a serious face. “I should hope so.”

“Where is she?”

“Right here.”

Rylow stared at her for a moment, and she stared right back. Then he laughed. “Very funny, girl.” Suddenly he slapped his hands on the table and growled, “I don’t have time for jokes. Tell me where the assassin is, or else I’ll- “

“Now, now, good sir, no need for threats.” She pushed his hands off the table with more strength than he thought possible. “You might be surprised at how much people will help you if you’re nice to them instead of rude.”

The girl waved a hand. “But anyways. I’m the assassin you’re looking for. And I can prove it.”

She whipped out a card from under her coloring page and handed it to him. Rylow took the silver card and read it with astonishment.

Asacia’s Assassinations

100% Elimination Guaranteed or your money back!

He flipped the card over.

Send me a message via carrier pigeon!

201 Appleberry Grove, Frue, Demtris

Meet me in person for a free consultation!

The Crackling Chestnuts in Frue, Demtris

Rylow glanced up at the girl. “Your name is Asacia? Asacia the Assassin?”

She looked offended. “Obviously not. Why would my real name be so ridiculous? And I’m not so stupid that I’ll give away my real name to a bunch of villains. That’s just a nickname for my business.”

Rylow threw her back the card. “Well, nice card, but I don’t believe it.”

“I don’t blame you.” Asacia leaned down, and with a little huff lifted a bag from the ground and plunked it on the table. A bunch of metal things clinked around inside. “These are the various seals of all my clients. You know, how you can identify a villain. Rings mainly, but there are some brooches and pendants. Take a look.”

Rylow stared at her for a moment, then hastily grabbed the bag and looked inside. To his utter shock, she spoke the truth. There was the purple and green ring of Thyreena from Sharian, the red ring with the silver star shaped gem of Pyrain from Catharan, and even the blood red and inky black pendant of the legendary Lord Ronlain from Dione. None of these infamous villains would ever give up their seals, unless for a planet-shattering reason.

In this case, that ‘planet-shattering reason’ seemed to be helping Asacia prove her legitimacy.

As much as he hated to believe that this little girl was the famed, lethal assassin he had heard about all the way back home, he had to admit that her evidence was solid. And he had already traveled all that way to see her.

Rylow plopped into the chair across from her. “Well. I suppose there’ll be no harm in trying.”

“Excellent.” Asacia flipped her coloring page over to a blank page and dipped a quill in an ink well. “First, your full name?”

            He rolled his eyes. “Lord Rylow Quathmire the Twenty-fourth.”

        Asacia glanced up with interest. “Twenty-fourth? Quite impressive. I’ve never heard of a family who couldn’t come up with an original name twenty-four generations in a row.”

        Rylow scowled. “Does it matter?”

        “No, no, not at all.” She dipped her quill in the ink well. “Where do you hail from?”

        “Why do you need to know?”

        “It’s a necessary formality. All assassins require it.”

        Rylow rolled his eyes again. “Southern Desert of Akeldin.”

        Asacia whistled low as she scratched it out. “That’s quite a distance from here. How long did it take you?”

        “I didn’t come here to make small talk with a little girl.”

        “For one, I’m not little, and for two, I apologize. It’s just that I’ve never met someone from so far away.”

        She waited for a response, but Rylow didn’t give any. Naturally she moved on.

        “Name of target? The hero you want eliminated?”

        “Ethgar the Efficient,” Rylow ground out. He hated that name on his tongue.

        “Ah, yes, he’s rather popular around here.” She scratched out the name and glanced up with a smile in her eyes. “That’s why I’ve been expecting you. A hero as good as him is bound to have a villain after him. Though usually villains don’t come themselves. They send one of their minions or something.”

        “None of your business.”

        “Oh, right, terribly sorry.”

        She wrote something else then steepled her fingers as she leaned back in her chair. It looked so comical that Rylow snickered rather rudely, but she paid him no heed.

        “Well, I believe this mission will be fairly simple, because Ethgar is a local hero, right here in my district. What remains to be discussed are my terms and the price.”

        Rylow braced himself for a little girl’s terms.

        “First of all, I do most of the job in the Poecarn Desert, plotting and then luring my victim into it without anyone knowing. For this, I require you to be there with me.”

        Rylow snorted. “Why? So I can babysit you?”

        “No, because during the plotting phase I need your input. You know, like the plans Ethgar has been foiling. Can you agree to this?”

        Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t have agreed to listen to her speak more than five words, much less travel all the way from home to see her.

        But these were not normal circumstances. Every other assassin he had hired had failed, and he had hired every assassin he could think of. These were desperate times, and desperate times called for desperate measures.

        “Fine,” he huffed. “What else?”

        “Well, while you’re with me in the desert, you’re not allowed to bring any of your minions. You have to go alone.”

        It just got more ridiculous as she went on. “And why not?”

        “Because! It’s dangerous! They might hurt me.”

        Rylow raised an eyebrow. That was certainly a legitimate fear. “Well, I’ll make sure they don’t.”

        Asacia shook her head rapidly. “It’s not just that. When I lure the victim in, they might interfere and ruin everything. I can’t risk it.”

        “I can’t go without my minions.”

        “Why? Are you afraid of me? Afraid a lass like me will hurt you?”

        Rylow snorted. “Of course not. But I don’t have much confidence in your ability to assassinate Ethgar either. He’s cunning. He’s efficient. He’s been foiling all my plans without stepping out of Frue. How exactly are you going to eliminate him?”

        Asacia rolled her eyes. “This is why I’m the assassin, not you. Let me worry about it.”

        There was a moment’s silence when Rylow felt like tearing a hole in the wall. He wished he never needed the help of this supposedly lethal little girl. He wished Ethgar didn’t exist. And he wished he was back home in his lava tub.

        “Fine,” he conceded grumpily. “I’ll go alone, without my minions, to the desert with you. What else?”

        “Price.” She shuffled her papers. “Did you have a range in mind?”

        Hiring assassins usually made considerable dents in Rylow’s funds, but this was a little girl from a small town. He wouldn’t be extravagant, especially considering how all the other assassins had already strained his pocket more than he was comfortable with.

        “Ten to twenty demii.”

        Asacia snorted. “If I wanted to make ten to twenty demii, I would have run an appleberry juice stand, not an assassination business. No, I was thinking around two million demii.”

        “Two million?” Rylow exclaimed incredulously.

        She didn’t seem fazed. “Why, yes, this is a very high-risk job. Besides, it’ll take up a lot of my time. I usually complete a job in around six months.”

“Six months?”

        Asacia gave him a look. “These things take time, Mr. Quathmire.”

        Rylow cringed. “Call me Lord Rylow.”

        “As you wish. But as I was saying, I have to do a lot of research, on you and on Ethgar, I have to do a lot of plotting – which I’m sure you’re familiar with – and I have to scout out a bunch of areas. It’s a lot of work.”

        “You expect me to spend six months with you out in the desert?”

        “What, are you concerned about the heat? I thought you’re from the desert. And judging by your current apparel, you’ll be just fine.”

        Rylow glared at her. “It’s not the heat. It’s the – “

        “Boredom?” Asacia smiled, and he couldn’t quite place the look in her eyes. “I assure you, Lord Rylow, you’ll be quite occupied.”

        “But what if you’re not successful? I would just lose two million demii.”

        “No, you wouldn’t. I’m not trying to cheat you. If I don’t complete the mission in six months, I will refund all of your money.”

        Rylow crossed his arms. “Let’s say I agree. What will you use the money for?”

        She smiled. “Charity, of course. Give it to the less fortunate people of Demtris.”

        The villain raised an eyebrow. “A little assassin like you is inclined to giving to charity?”

        “Well, I’m not entirely evil. I’m sure even you have done a good thing or two in your life.”

        It was a rare occurrence, but true. Rylow remembered a time when he had saved a little girl from falling into a ravine and escorted her home. Still…

        “But two million demii? How much money do the poor need?”

        Asacia gave him a look. “There are a lot of needy people in the world, and two million demii won’t even make a dent.”

        “It’ll make a dent out of my funds.”

        Asacia sighed long-sufferingly, like she’d had this conversation many times. “It may seem like that, but I assure you, it’s not. Besides, I doubt much of your money is yours, if you catch my drift.”

        Rylow caught it very well, with great offense. “Are you saying it’s because I stole it? You couldn’t be more mistaken. I wouldn’t stoop to the level of stealing an honest man’s hardworking money. I’m not that type of villain.”

        Asacia raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps, but would you steal the money of a man who doesn’t work as hard? Or a man who isn’t as honest?”


        The girl rolled her eyes. “Or have one of your minions steal it?”

        “Maybe. Probably. Yes.”

        “What’s the difference?”

        Rylow glared at her. “The first man earned his money. The second one didn’t.”

        “So would you be fine if someone stole your money? You didn’t gain it honestly, after all.”

        Rylow was silent, but inwardly he was struggling and screaming. Something about what she said was both…no, he couldn’t let himself think that.

        “Stealing is wrong no matter who you steal from.”

        “I won’t have you preaching to me about morals, young lady. I’m a villain. It’s what I do.” He huffed. “And you’re one to talk, going around killing people at your age.”

        Asacia smiled. “So you do believe that I can kill.”

        Rylow scowled, pushing out his chair. “Are we done?”

        “Do you agree to my terms?”

        Rylow bit his lip. “Yes.”

        “Wonderful! Just sign right here, please.” She slid him a paper telling of the terms and agreements and handed him the quill.

        Rylow sighed and signed his name with a flourish. He hoped he wasn’t making a mistake, but he had a strange feeling that something was off. Something about Asacia’s wording during their meeting…

        Six months later…

        Snow swirled down from the dark, dreary sky as wind howled and shutters shook. The streets of Frue were mostly empty except for a few stragglers going home, but The Crackling Chestnuts was packed. Winter was its most popular season, which meant Nulyck was busier than usual.

The owner’s feet ached from standing all day, but still he bustled back and forth, filling up mugs and handing out baskets of roasted chestnuts. As the bell over the door tinkled, he glanced up.

        A tall man with the massive build of a warrior walked in, cloaked in furs of a foreign land. Nulyck felt a warm glow blossom in his heart at the man’s presence, but when the man took off his hood, the owner tilted his head. Who was that man? There was something familiar about his face, but Nulyck was sure he had never seen him before.

        The stranger, who stood over the heads of most of the people, scanned the room with focused dark eyes. They landed on a certain corner and lit up with amusement, then turned toward the back. The man headed straight for the bar and Nulyck quickly stopped staring and resumed working.

        Out of the corner of his eye, Nulyck watched the man take a seat on a stool. The owner felt his gaze but finished up serving a customer before making his way to the newcomer. Nulyck suddenly recognized the man’s cloak as belonging to that stranger from last summer, the one with the fine ring. Could that be why he looked familiar? Were they the same person?

        But those icy fingers that had crept down his spine when the stranger looked at him were replaced with a warm glow that filled his whole being when this man looked at him.

        “Good day to you, sir!” Nulyck called out. “Can I get you anythin’?”

        “Just a mug of ale and some chestnuts, please.”

        The owner winked as he reached back for a pre-prepared basket of the chestnuts. “Our most popular order, you know. Small or large mug?”


        “Comin’ right up.” He opened the keg of the barrel and let the golden ale run, gazing at the man with a tilt of his head. “Say, you look rather familiar. ‘ave we met?”

        “No, sir.” The man exchanged the chestnuts and ale for a handful of coins. Nulyck noticed he had no ring, and the stranger had not been the type of person to give it up.

        “Ah, must ‘ave mistaken you for someone else, then.” He counted out the coins and pushed a few back. “These are yours, lad. You gave me nearly double.”

“It’s a tip.”

        Nulyck blinked in surprise. “A tip? Are you sure?”

        The man looked him in the eye with a hint of an apology, and again Nulyck felt the warm glow. “I’m sure.” He gestured to his left where a group of teenagers just arrived. “I don’t want to keep you. Customers are waiting.”

        Nulyck scooped the coins up, gazing at the young man affectionately. “You’re a nice lad. Next time you’re in the area, make sure to drop in.”

        The man didn’t seem to be listening as he stared into his mug, off in another world. Nulyck smiled one last time then bustled off and greeted the new customers.

        Rylow took a sip from his mug and turned to face the room. Scanning past dancing couples and bustling waitresses, he picked out a familiar corner where a little girl was arguing with an armed man whose face was covered in battle scars.

        Rylow’s eyes lit up with mirth when the girl plunked down a bag on the table. The man looked at her incredulously before rummaging in it, finally holding up a ring with a flame shaped gemstone of rich orange to the candlelight. The man looked from it to the girl with surprise, then tossed the ring back in and plopped down in the chair across from her.

        The mug was finished off in a few quick gulps, and the chestnuts were poured into a pouch on a belt. Rylow squeezed past waitresses and dancing couples and gripped the handle of the door to The Crackling Chestnuts, where he glanced back fondly. Then he swept the door open and stepped out into the night, pulling his hood against the falling snow.

        It was dark and shadows now covered his face as Rylow glided down the cobblestone streets of Frue, but behind the darkness of the hood a glowing smile stretched across his face.

Because in six months, another evil heart would be assassinated.

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