Casual Response

Summer: 17 years at the Monastery, eight weeks after second assassination attempt

Twist, curl, circle, thrust. Turn, bring the staff around, strike, circle it, stop, reverse, circle, strike. The fifty pound staff in Sunar’s hands whirled almost as if it were alive. Few in the temple could wield it at all, much less accomplish full katas. He used it at least twice a week, instead of lifting weights. Today was no different. Right now, he stood at the bottom of the Deep Court, named because it had been made from a hole in the side of the mountain almost two stories deep. It had four openings, but no doors, was somewhat away from most of the temple, and could only be seen from directly overhead.

He finished the kata, but continued free form, the staff singing in his hands.

His nose picked them up first; odors of flint and steel, of sweat and fire. He could pick out any of his fellows by nose, thanks to his dragon sire, and these people did not belong here. Accompanying the odors was something that raised the hackles on the back of his neck – three sets of footsteps, trying for stealth. Each from a different corridor.

Again? This is the second time this week. At least they’re professionals this time. They got past the watchers and they’re almost stealthy. He glanced up toward the sky. No bells being rung. Bringing his gaze back down, he glanced between three of the four entrances. Either that or someone saw they were headed to me and decided not to ring them.

He closed his eyes, concentrated on the sounds of people with a rudimentary understanding of stealth trying to be silent. They all stopped just outside the doorways, as if waiting for a signal. He continued to move the staff for a minute, then a minute more. Still they stood outside the doors. Maybe they thought to let him finish with the hope that he’d be tired? If he kept this up too much longer, their hope might be realized. No sense letting them choose the time. “Come on, then. Unless you three have lost your nerve.”

Another moment’s hesitation, then all three burst into the room at once.

Sunar opened his eyes and took them in at a glance: A woman stood in the door across from him, holding a laser pistol, and two men wielding swords, charged from either side. She fired, one shot zipping past, the other ripping into the scales over his ribs. It burned, but his scales absorbed the worst of it. He stepped left towards one of the men, and swung the staff with full strength. The man smiled, and positioned his sword to deflect the blow. A second later, it shattered as the staff struck it, and a second after that, its wielder crumpled to the floor to the sound of shattering ribs and arms.

A sharp bite in his upper arm. Sunar whirled around, roaring at the woman. The sonic wave hit her and she stumbled backward, her next shot burying itself in the stone wall. Time slowed as adrenaline kicked in. and Sunar spun around to face the third assailant. The man was almost upon him, one hand reaching for the end of the staff. Sunar put all of his weight and power into a thrust. The man’s arm reacted as if made of straw, and his rib cage caved in beneath the force with a sickening crunch.

He turned back to the woman. A look of concentration tightened a face, blazing with horror and fear. Shaking arms raised the weapon, hands trembling too hard to aim.

Sunar put all of his ki into closing the distance between them, driving the butt of the staff into her stomach.

She doubled over and vomited blood.

Then the bells began to sound.

He stood there panting, time slowing, adrenaline fading – the entire thing had taken barely a handful of seconds. It goes by so fast. When we spar, we sometimes trade blows for several minutes, but when the fight is real, it ends almost as soon as it begins.

The sound of someone sliding down the walls caught his attention and he turned to see Meesha land. He nodded to her and went to check one of the men while she checked the other.

Master Ikthan strode in from one of the doors, Doctor Soren in tow. The Doctor took one look at the situation and went to the woman, kicked her weapon away, then knelt to examine her.

Her eyes snapped open, a knife appearing in her hand.

Soren never moved his eyes from his examination. The edge of his hand impacted her wrist, and she cried out but dropped the knife. “We were so close… to… the treasure…” Her eyes rolled back and she collapsed.

Soren stared down at her for a moment longer, then nodded and rose. Exchanging a look with Ikthan, he strode over to join the others in the middle of the chamber.

Meesha slipped her hand into Sunar’s and gave a quick squeeze, then turned her attention to Ikthan.,

“She will live,” Master Ikthan gestured toward the woman. “Not that it will help us much. It seems our ‘friend’ has circulated rumors that we have a great treasure stored in some vault within the Temple. The stories vary – priceless art, a magical artifact that makes gold, healing potions, and possibly other things.”

Perplexity crawled across Meesha’s face. “Such an obvious fabrication. It would hardly encourage thieves. Why would they do such a thing?”

Sunar allowed a small growl in his voice, “To give anyone who is caught a story to tell. Breaking into this temple to steal a treasure carries a penalty of a few years in prison, possibly hard labor. Assassination carries a minimum penalty of life without parole, with a high chance of execution.”

Ikthan nodded, “It is a thin pretext, but one which will hold for now. Unfortunately, it also means these attacks will continue until they get desperate or make a mistake.”

Sunar shook his head, “These attacks hardly seem a danger at this point, though I do not like all of this killing. Perhaps I should challenge Vorgar openly, accuse him of sending these assassins.”

Ikthan shook his head, “In due time, Sunar. To accuse him of something so extreme could send him crying to the courts to request trial – a trial he might be able to win. Indeed, that may be his actual plan. Accuse him of anything less and he will decline to dual you since, technically, he won the last one.

“So, there is little we can do for now. I will speak to the authorities. The sheriff in charge of this region understands the reality of the situation, and this attack will help him justify freeing the resources to give us some aid. It won’t stop the attacks, but it should at least help push our foe out into the open.”

Sunar looked off into the distance, then shook his head. “Very well, let them come, Master Ikthan. We will stand ready.”


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