Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Assassin's Prison


To my feet. Set stance. Observe.

Dark. Quiet. Stone floor. Still air. Nothing nearby.

Reach and draw knives. They are gone. Reset stance. Shake arm to loose the spike. It is gone. Reset stance. Observe closely.

This is not the dark of night; sun, moon, star and torch are all absent. I cannot see my feet, hands, or even as near as my shoulders. I must be indoors, the night sky is never this dark. I hear as little as I see; If I am not alone, then my company breathes more quietly than I can. Maintaining my stance, I make a slow, silent step forward to find nothing. I make another, my knuckles coming into contact with polished, flat stone. I take steps to the left, hand tracing the wall, and in three paces I touch smooth lumber. Breaking stance, I search with my hands, finding the thin wooden frame of shelves and several sealed jars stacked upon them. Behind the shelves is only a second wall, which I follow four paces to a third stone wall. This bare wall is four paces in length as well. My fourth stone wall is broken by the rough wood of a heavy door. A gentle push tells me it is barred on the other side.

I lean my back against the first wall while I think. What was I last doing? Searching my memory causes my body to shudder; I see within my mind a flash of blue flame and am beset by the echo of a searing pain. I can recall only burning. No, it was no simple burn. I have withstood the desert, passed my hand through flames, even grasped at hot coals, but this was like no heat I have felt before. What burned was not my skin, but something else ... something deeper.

In frustration, I roll my neck, but the instant my head makes contact with the wall, I recoil from a twinge of pain. I gently massage the back of my head, noting how tender the skin is. Doubtless an injury from combat, but with whom and why? To check myself, I pass my hands over my body, finding few bruises, no wounds and many old scars, each one a familiar lesson to me. My skin feels clean, free of my ashen guise. Stretching my shoulders first and continuing to flex joints all over, I ensure I have no sprains or other injuries. I cannot believe one blow to the back of my head enough to have brought me here.

The flame and its pain greet me again as I try to think back, but there must be something beyond it. I push past it, bathing in fire all over again, and behind the flame I find its source, a hand. Behind that hand is an arm, then a shoulder, a man, a face and a scar. It is the scar I recognize, an old lesson that one should never hold back. As I still live, it would seem he has not learned. Searching further, behind the man I see his ward and my target, the Pharaoh. It all comes back to me now, though with more questions than answers.

This makes no sense. I have attacked the Pharaoh and killed one of his guard; his remaining guards should have executed me when given the chance. Perhaps I was captured and will be tortured in the hopes that I reveal my employer. That is likely enough, but then I would expect at least my hands to be bound. My captor could be unaware of my crime, intending to sell me as a slave. A slaver, though, would have better prisons than a storage room for jars of... What is in the jars?

Tearing the wax seal of a top shelf jar releases the stinging smell of lamp oil. Passing my hands around and between the jars rewards me with a pair of fire stones. The shelving could be turned into a torch, although I doubt light will tell me any more about this room. If I find no safer way escape, the door could be made weaker with fire. At this very thought, I see the door take to flame. Blue tongues reach from floor to ceiling, casting their heat at me. Fright takes hold and I scramble backwards, colliding with the shelves. A jar from the second shelf tilts and I hear it begin to roll. Fearing more oil, I spin round to catch it before it can break on the floor.

As I clutch the cool clay jar to my chest, I realize the flames are gone, merely a trick of my mind. That fight is over and done; no matter what sorcery it was, I killed the man who wielded it. It is a shame, to be true. That man has always impressed me; it is no surprise that he was recruited to the pharaoh's guard. He is the best single combatant I know, and even though I beat him twice, I am not sure I can claim superiority. Both times he was able to achieve his goal and I cannot know if he would fight differently were he not protecting someone. A shame that I will never know.

I set those thoughts aside as I open the cradled jar in my arms, the contents bringing a sweet smell of grain and honey to my nose. Odd that my captor would allow me to be well fed; the thick beer of this country fills a stomach as well as bread. I must have been asleep for some time because I replace the jar to the shelf only after it is empty, even contemplating another. Crouching to the bottom shelf, I find it bare, save for a large folded cloth. The material is thin but rough, with frayed edges and a few less patches than holes. It will make for an excellent cloak once I escape. I wrap it around my shoulders and tie it loosely, pulling a hood up over my brow.

Now to devise a way out that does not involve fire, but even this thought draws my mind back to the man and the tournament where we first met. What a waste of time that became. Of all my opponents, only one stood as a to challenge me, but in the moment I could feel that challenge, I became robbed of it. His forfeit brings a flood of fury over me even now; mindlessly, I reach for the empty jar and hurl it into the wall. The shattering clay wakes and focuses me. I fall quickly to my knees and search through the shards, picking up a piece as long as my forearm.

Up and around, shove the shard between door and wall, under where the beam barring the door should be. Slide it up. Feel it catch. Lift slow and steady, careful not to break the clay. The beam is stubborn, but not heavy. Feel it free from brackets. Push forward and drop the shard. Hear the beam bounce against the ground.

Be quick, someone may have heard that. Set stance. Kick the door open. Observe.

Faint light from the right. Stone walls and ceiling. Distant sounds, no voices. Hints of sea air, mostly still.

Step forward, look right. The hallway is long, turning left at its end and with the bright light of the sun shining in. Torches hang from the wall but they are not lit, suggesting dawn. Glancing left around the door shows me a short hallway, also turning left, away from the sun. This will be my escape; the other option would blind me.

Turning around the door, I stumble over a short cart; my kick causes it to lurch forward a pace before it halts on the broken edge of a wheel. The pails are dry, another indication of early morning. The light at the other end of the hall must be sunrise and that direction, east. After rounding the corner, I emerge into the shadow of my prison which stretches through an open courtyard and its well. The surrounding hovels have a familiar construction; I do not believe I have left the city I last remember. A brief dash north and I look back at my prison from cover of the nearby alley.

The building is no small thing, at least two men tall and several more wide. Decorative markings hint at its purpose, but the mix of sun and shade does not make them easy to understand. Squinting my eyes as they adjust to the sunlight, I see figures depicting the familiar story of Horus. Osiris is murdered by a jealous Set and resurrected by his wife, Isis. She then bears him a son, Horus, who to this day wages war with Set. Yet, this is no temple of Horus; the writings here foretell of a victory for Set. What has a temple of Set to do with me?

I have lingered too long and will find no more answers here. Whoever brought me here will know of my escape soon enough and the Pharaoh's guards are likely looking for me as well. The sounds of morning grow loud as men and women rise from their beds; that I may hide among a crowd is comforting and the market will be thickest. Turn left, then right, and left again, hugging shadows until I emerge onto the busy main street and well on my way to the market.

Hundreds congest the market by the time I arrive. My cloak becomes too hot as the sun lifts; it is time it served its purpose. Pass by an arms dealer, sweeping the cloak over a knife, removing it silently from the table. Loosen the tie at my neck. Look for a fat man in the crowd, rich and used to being bumped. Jar him with my shoulder. Deftly cut the purse from his waist. Move on quickly, letting the cloak fall from my shoulders just as I put other people between us.

Now to find some real food. Glancing into the purse, I see today I can afford steak. No, I should be frugal. There is no sense in drawing attention with information left to gather. Where is the Pharaoh? Who captured me and why? These questions will be answered more easily if I am not also the steak eating thief.

"The Pharaoh desires only the finest cut of meat. What can you offer him?" A voice calls loudly over the crowd. Move left, forward. Find the source.

"Ha! How do I know you speak for the Pharaoh?" I can see the vendor who replies, pointing a cleaver. Shift right, around the clot of people. "Were the Pharaoh here, I would let him kill the calf of his choosing."

"The Pharaoh has been attacked once in this city, and now sits under guard of twenty men. He will not leave his room until his business is conducted." He is one of the other guards from the night of my attempt, I do not doubt it. He hands a small purse to the vendor. "This is the Pharaoh's gold. Now, the meat."

How fortunate, the Pharaoh remains for me. The hunt resumes; I may complete my contract after all. They know I live, but with twenty guard they fear no more. I will need smoke, a distraction, and at least another blade. Twenty guard, waiting for me. A challenge, indeed.

First, I must follow this bird to his nest. Weave through the crowd. Break from his line of sight often in case he looks over shoulder. Stay at the fringe. Move faster.


The next grain of sand has yet to fall through the hourglass.
Feeling lost in time? Start at the beginning.

1 comment:

  1. What can I say? The writing style is unique and captivating. The reader must pay attention to the little things. I am intrigued as to where this is heading. Definitely keeps my interest and I'm looking forward to the "next grain of sand." JED