Summer: 17 years at the Monastery, twelve weeks after second assassination attempt
“What surprised me was that Sierra pulled it off. I mean, hummingbird to meet against crane-in-the-rushes? I expected to see her head pile into the mat!” Gorshun motioned with his head to mimic taking a blow, and the other teens laughed. Sunar sat back, his arm around Meesha, and looked over his friends. His fellow Titans all sat at ease with their arms around their girlfriends; Roses all.
He relaxed and let himself take it all in. The sun shone bright, the breeze blew cool but comfortable, the scents of the garden around them filled his nose, and the sound of his friend’s laughter filled his ears. I could live like this; the eight of us growing old together, children underfoot and getting into all sorts of mischief. Peace and quiet, with friends, family and love. Even the attempts to kill me have become no big deal, just sort of faded into the background. It seems the only effect they have had is that most of us walk around at least minimally armed. The last two barely even felt like cause to…
Lenar’s eyes suddenly widened and his human friend surged forward. A shuriken flew from his hand, passing between him and Meesha, then he felt excruciating pain in his arm and herd Meesha scream. He looked over, horrified, to find a dagger blade had gone through his arm and pinned it to Meesha’s shoulder.
Seben’s shuriken sailed by his head, and he heard that one find its mark. Gorshun followed right behind it, so close that the hair on his Halfling feet brushed his nose. His eyes followed his friend’s flight path, and saw him drive the shuriken deep into the attacker’s skull. The pressure on the dagger went slack as the man crumpled. He looked back to see a dark-elf head poke up over some bushes with a blowgun at the ready. He surged forward, taking Meesha with him. The dart sailed through the space his neck had just vacated and they tumbled to the ground, the dagger still pinning his arm to her shoulder.
A look of irritation crossed the dark-elf’s face and a blaster appeared in his hand. Sunar roared with such fury that he could see the sound-wave. The dark-elf staggered back a step and the blaster went off-line. Elia, Lenar’s girlfriend, flipped backwards off her bench, caught the edge of the awning over the benches, and used that to launch herself across the foot path to land beside the dark-elf, then delivered a crushing blow to the man’s throat.
The eight of them froze stock-still with ears, eyes, and noses straining to pick up any indication of another presence. One of the bushes stirred, and two of the Roses launched hairpins at it in perfect, smooth motions.
Master Ikthan emerged a moment later, one hairpin in each hand. “Excellent throws ladies. Right on the mark, even at an unseen target. I would chide you for not checking your targets first, but given the circumstances I probably should have announced myself.”
The Master bent over Sunar and Meesha, and took a moment to examine them before speaking. “You both appear to have gotten lucky, the dagger missed any major arteries or veins. I am not sure why an assassin would stab you in the arm, however.
Lenar answered. “I tossed a shuriken at where his head would have been if he’d made the strike he wanted. He dodged, and missed Sunar’s head.”
Gorshun laughed. “Probably should have let him try! I’m sure it would have bounced off that scale-plated skull: Light knows Sunar’s head is hard enough.”
Everyone smiled, and Meesha tried to chuckle, then winced.
Ikthan put his hand on Sunar’s arm, thumb and finger to either side of the dagger, “I need both of you in trance. Now. Reduce the blood to the damaged areas. Yes, Sunar, you see it now. That dagger is about to open up a vein. I am going to pull it out, and I want you both to stay in trance until doctor Soren brings you out.”
They both acknowledged, closed their eyes, and let the world go.
Sunar had to grapple with his fury for a moment: they had hurt Meesha! It took several breaths for him to take the fury in, ride it, and let it go so he could concentrate everything on his wound. He barely felt the dagger leave his arm. Some small part of his mind noted, in passing, Ikthan’s skill in pulling it out without doing any further damage. He then concentrated all his efforts on his healing, and lost all track of the outside world.
A finger-snap brought him out of the trance. He looked around gingerly, noted that he’d been moved to the infirmary, and that the sun had set outside the window. Several hours then, not that I’m surprised. I’ve repaired the damage as well as I’m going to be able to for now.
His mother’s hand touched his shoulder, and he saw that she’d been crying. His father’s hand touched his other shoulder, and he saw the same. He looked at them, and brought his hand to his mother’s. “Meesha?”
His mother nodded as his father spoke: “She is fine. The Doctor is going to keep her in her trance for a few more hours: shoulders take more time to heal than arms.”
His sister stood nearby as well, a sly grin on her face. Sunar raised his eyebrows. “What, sis? No tears for your gravely injured brother?”
She rolled her eyes. “Tears? Gravely injured? You’re not in danger of dying! More like ‘slightly inconvenienced’. I bet you’re back on the mats day after tomorrow.” She gave him a sly grin. “So, you gonna keep the scar? I bet it would be wicked if you did: make you look all dangerous.” She wiggled her eyebrows theatrically and they shared a laugh.
His laughter died as his mind replayed the image that had threatened to break his trance all afternoon: the image of the dagger’s tip sticking out of Meesha’s shoulder. “I don’t know. Maybe. If I do, it will be a reminder not to allow myself to get complacent. We should, I should… I failed, and Meesha paid the price. I should have heard those two sneaking through the garden, but…”
“But nothing.” Master Ikthan’s voice cut him off. “Those were not the same sort of thugs that have been sent after you before. No, Sunar, if anyone failed, then all of us failed.” He held up an image of an intricate tattoo on a dark-elf arm “These were trained specialists bound to House Ratharin: that is the house insignia. We, all of us, should have been better prepared, kept better watch, been more vigilant. We are a community, we set guards for a reason. No one can be expected to keep total awareness at all times, however, and that is why we have each other, after all. It is done now, though, and the danger is passed for the moment with no permanent damage to any of ours.”
“Meesha is fine, all things considered. Nothing a few stitches, a few days of healing, and a little of Dr. Soren’s herbs won’t cure.” His eyes took on a slightly humorous cast, “She, I am sure, will not be opting to keep her scar.”
“This has to stop, Master Ikthan.” Sunar stared at the ceiling, trying to keep his fury contained. “They hurt Meesha. I have put all of you at risk. If anything had happened to her… I would never…” A sudden resolve filled him, and he locked eyes with Master Ikthan, “I will…”
“Stop letting your emotions charge ahead of you and learn to listen to the wisdom of your Elders, as well as the various options available to you, before deciding on some course of action which will – no doubt – be noble, rash, and self sacrificing?” Ikthan looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “That seems like the first thing you should resolve to do. The second might be to listen, yes?”
Sunar made an attempted to push his resolve aside, but it pushed back, “But, Master Ikthan, we must do something. This can’t be allowed to continue! I… um… we…?” He knew that look, even lying on his back and looking at an upside-down mentor, he knew. He sat up, careful not to move his arm more than he had to, and faced the master. He took a calming breath, pushed everything he felt to the side to be dealt with later, opened his eyes, and nodded.
Master Ikthan gave a slight nod, whether in acknowledgment or mild rebuke he wasn’t sure, then spoke. “These assassins are bound directly to House Rathairn, which means they have finally overplayed their hand, and given us excellent options to deal with them, but we must act quickly. I traced the route they took to get in – they climbed the backside of the mountain to avoid discovery – which means they have been at this for many hours, possibly even days, and should not be due to check in again for another couple of days at least. This gives the chance to strike before House Rathairn is able to obscure their ties to them.
He paused, studying Sunar’s face for a moment, then glanced around at the others before continuing. “We have two choices, each bears certain risks. The safest route will take time. I will go directly to Duke Galaton with our evidence, tonight, and accuse House Rathairn of attempted assassinations. The evidence we have now is indisputable, and certain contacts of mine have been able to provide additional proof that these assassins are in the active employ of that house. This will probably lead to the entire House being taken down: the Empire does not tolerate assassination. The trouble is that the wheels of such an investigation can turn slowly, and Vorgar seems the sort to try and extract vengeance on his way down. The faster route,” he looked into Sunar’s eyes, “ is for you and I to have a wizard teleport us to planet Corridin tomorrow. Lord Ratharin will be holding court, and I have enough status to get us past the guards even without an invitation. Once we are in the House throne room, we put our evidence forth to the Lord of the House, and you challenge Vorgar to a duel. You could, of course, wait, and allow him to make the challenge, but then you risk him crying foul and demanding an investigation, at which point we are back to waiting again.”
Sunar’s eyes narrowed slightly and he gave the barest nod of his head.
Master Ikthan raised the tip of one finger. “This duel would be different than what happened before, Sunar. You will be challenging him, and he will get the choice of weapons. He will certainly choose some sort of firearm, and one which is particularly lethal. It is also almost a guarantee that he will cheat again.”
Sunar nodded, and gave the choices all the consideration he felt they were due: “When do we leave?”