Written by Jeff Lee
Suisan awoke to the soft snores of the man that shared her bed. Her head was on his upper arm. He smelled of sweat, leather, and weapon oil. With a self-satisfied sigh, she opened her eyes and glanced at him. His tanned, scarred skin was exposed but for the tangle of sheets around his midsection. Idly, she traced a finger along one of the scars on his back. He was likely five, perhaps seven, years her junior, yet he bore more marks from old wounds than she. The price of a successful gladiatorial career. Her hand continued to wander, reading the historical map of his time in the arena. Her long, white legs were entwined with his, sun-darkened and bandy with muscle. Sun slanted through the wooden slats of the room’s shutters. She’d overslept. Not surprising. The man’s endurance was impressive. A lazy smile stretched over her face as she reviewed some of the evening’s highlights in her mind. Then the sun behind the windows was blotted out. Suisan cursed, sparing a glance for her sword belt, slung on a chair across the room, right beneath the darkened windows. She disengaged her legs from those of the young gladiator, but was still fighting free of the sheets when four figures broke through the shutters and into the room, bared blades in hand. They wore dark, shabby clothing, with hoods and veils. Remove the facial covering, and any outer layers stained with their victim’s blood, and one would be just another commoner trudging through the streets.
Red hair streaming behind her, Suisan loosed a scream, moving forward naked and unarmed. The first assassin faltered, because of the scream or the sudden rush of a nude woman, she would never know. She swiveled her hips, sending a kick out and up. A thrill went through her as she felt the man’s nose give under her heel, the hollow thud of his head against the wall and the sudden glassy expression in his eyes telling her to move on to the next attacker. She turned as a blade was thrust at her, the attacker trying to take her just above her left breast. His blade drew a crimson line along the outside of her shoulder instead as she let the blade move past her. Her long fingers gripped his wrist as she twisted his arm, the inside of his elbow now facing upward towards her face as she brought up her knee. With a satisfying crack, his arm bent the wrong way, and she was able to pull the blade from his now nerveless fingers. Two on one now, but at least she was armed.
Even odds, she corrected herself, as the gladiator—finally roused from sleep—launched himself from the bed with a shout of surprise and outrage, throwing himself at the closest attacker. Suisan turned her attention to the remaining assassin, exposing her teeth in a wolfish grin as she brandished the stolen dagger. She could feel the blood running down her arm from the slash she took from the other attacker. The man gazed at her with wary, dark eyes, all that could be seen of his face as he shifted the grip on his weapon. Suisan laughed.
“Well? Are you going to kill me, or just wait to see if I bleed out from this flesh wound?” Before she had finished the final words, she lunged, then again, first an upward slash, then a stab, forcing her opponent back. They traded blows, each testing the other’s defenses and skills. Behind her, she could hear the grunts and struggles of the gladiator and his opponent. She had seen him wrestle in the arena. It was not likely the assassin was as accomplished a grappler. She stepped in around a stab for her neck and brought an elbow up, aiming for the man’s nose. She caught his cheek instead. A boot slid down her shin and smashed into the instep of her bare left foot. She stumbled and took another slash across her forearm as she warded off an incoming strike. Limping, she retreated as the assassin pressed the attack, stabbing at her midsection. A second step and another strike, then a third, the blade rasping against her own as she caught it and threw his arm back. Her hip slammed into something, her retreat blocked. She reversed her grip on the dagger, taking a defensive stance as she spared a downward glance. The chair. Her sword.
Her opponent’s gaze followed hers, and he redoubled his efforts. It earned her two more cuts on her fighting arm and a stab wound on her shoulder, deep enough to insert a finger to the first knuckle. Then she managed to catch his blade on hers, momentarily locking it against the cross guard. Suisan grabbed her sword belt with her free hand and whipped it in a wide arc at the assassin’s face, catching him in the eye with the heavy, iron buckle. His guard lowered, she dropped the dagger, closing her hand over the comfortable hilt of her hand-and-a-half sword. With an evil hiss, it slid from its scabbard in a wide arc and connected with her opponent’s neck, severing his head. He made two thumps hitting the floor.
Taking her blade in a two-handed grip, Suisan took stock of the rest of her enemies. The one with the broken arm was unconscious on the floor. The one her gladiator first engaged lay on his stomach, but his dead eyes stared at the ceiling. The remaining assassin, whose nose she’d broken, was on the floor. The gladiator lay atop him, unmoving. He had died grappled with his opponent, who was trying to untangle himself and roll the dead weight off. A grim smile stole over Suisan’s face, and she enjoyed the scene a moment before stepping over. The struggling assassin froze. His eyes looked up over a face covering soaked in blood from his broken nose. Suisan flashed her wolfish grin again.
“I don’t suppose you’ll tell me who hired you?” she asked.
“You are to die for heresy against Khayne’s law,” he replied.
“Close enough. I can guess the rest. For that, I’ll let you live.” His response was a curse.
Suisan shrugged, then stabbed the sword down, through the dead gladiator’s lower back, straight through into the assassin’s gut. He gasped in pain, then shrieked as she grabbed the cross-guards and gave the blade a savage twist before withdrawing it.
“Of course, I can’t have you following me. Also, you’ll likely survive that wound long enough for the watch to take you into custody. Or maybe you can escape and live long enough to report your failure to your masters. I’m sure they’ll be merciful.”
The assassin began to struggle harder to free himself. Suisan reversed the blade and brought the pommel down on his already damaged nose. He ceased struggling. She wiped her blade on an edge of his cloak and sheathed it. She could hear voices in the hallway, then a nervous knocking on the door, questions shouted. Time to go.
She knelt to gather her clothes, tossed to the floor in the midst of last night’s passion. As she stood, her vision blurred and she stumbled, kicking an empty wine bottle across the floor with a hollow clatter. Suisan cursed herself for stupidity. Poison. Of course, the blades were poisoned. None of her wounds were serious, but whatever envenomed their daggers was beginning to work. She dragged her pack from under the bed, fished around until she found a small vial of brown glass, popped the cork, and drank it, wincing at the bitter, herbal taste. The antitoxin should keep her moving until she could find assistance. There was an alchemist not far from here who would be discrete. As an afterthought, she grabbed the unused dagger from the man with the broken neck. Easier to locate an antidote if you knew the poison.
The knocking at the door had turned to pounding and calls for the innkeeper to bring his keys. No time to dress. She stuffed the clothing into her pack. After belting on her blade and shouldering the pack, she made for the window, finding a rope still attached leading to the roof. Suisan hauled herself out the window, sparing one final glance for the handsome gladiator lying tangled on the floor with the unconscious killer. She sighed. She’d already paid good gold to rent him for three days. Now that he was dead, she was sure his owner would sue her for recompense. She kicked herself out the window and climbed upward just as someone started putting their shoulder to the locked door. Once atop the inn, she hauled the rope up after her, then cut the others dangling over the other windows. Suisan gave the rooftop a quick survey to ensure she was alone, then fumbled on her clothing. Shouldering the pack once again, she took the rope with her, leaping across the narrow gap to an adjoining rooftop. From there, she secured the rope and descended into an alley behind the building. Then she made her way to the docks. On the way, she prayed to Khayne, asking him for the dignity of not dying of poisoning in a trash-strewn alley as she made her way through town.
To be continued…