West Orden, 1115
Not for the first time, the Regicide found himself scrambling in the fallout of a botched plan. It was supposed to be simple. Locate the target, learn their habits, get them alone, finish the job. Simple, clean, no need to show Cymaria had anything to do with this.
Every sprinting step down the alley came with the crunching of gravel, and his breath bounced off the narrow walls to fill his ears again. He turned corners and scanned for markers, all the while keeping the map he’d memorized in his mind’s eye. He’d have to intercept the target before they got to their residence and risk an assassination in the street. Then of course, he’d have to leave the scene and evade the city watch, to say nothing about locating the reason for all of this spontaneous improvisation.
Why were things never simple?
Pascal would take the rooftops - he always preferred higher ground - but Din had the advantage of planning his route beforehand. He should have known his brother wouldn’t have the patience to stay and wait . He muttered a curse under his breath and shot around another corner. It would be some time before the dark hour, but the solid walls of the buildings on either side casted the alley in deep shadow. The light from the sun shone at the end, reflecting off the street.
With another burst of speed, Din raced to the street. He skidded to a stop just before he stepped into the sun and ran a hand through his hair. Stay calm, stay calm; he was just another pedestrian out on a stroll. He stepped out, blending into the flow of foot traffic. An attractive gentleman gave him a questioning stare, and Din flashed a disarming smile. The man said nothing.
Alright, now to scout for the target. He’d been given a name, of course, but the nature of this job required that he never use it. Simply, the target. A physical description had been given as well, and the past few days of observations had made it so Din could recognize them on sight. He scanned above the heads in the crowd. Although his height gave him a distinctive feature unideal for an assassin, at least it had its uses.
A flash of color on the other side of the street snatched his attention, and he swivelled his eyes to look. Sauntering with a cape and cane, making no effort to be discreet, was the target. Din smothered the grin at the corner of his mouth, and wove in between bodies to intercept.
There were just enough people out today to take the Nobleman hostage if he played his cards right. Twist their arm behind them and put a knife to their back, pretend to be an old acquaintance. No one would bat an eye when Din led them into a secluded place. And certainly no one would notice when either of them didn’t come out.
Din turned over the armory stone in his hand and imagined the knife for the job. Don’t summon it too early, it’ll raise alarm. He stalked closer, filling his lungs with calming breaths. He settled into the Nobleman’s blindspot and prepared to make his move.
The first move that never came.
Just as Din’s aura danced around the edge of his armory stone, his attention was stolen by movement above. He looked up, just in time to see Pascal falling from the rooftops above, dagger brandished for the kill.
Panic clawed up his throat, and before he could stop himself, it left his throat in a shout.
Regret stabbed through his gut as soon as the words left his mouth. The target spun on their heels. Their cane flashed in the sun. A blow knocked Pascal to the side before he could land, and the target lunged forward. Pascal’s face twisted in a grimace of surprise. His dagger dropped from his hand.
The target yanked back the cane, and Din saw a metal point, coated in scarlet. Sword Cane.
“My liege!” Din cried out.
With a flick of his hand, he sent a gold-colored wave toward Pascal, knocking his brother back before he could attack again. Gasps filled the street behind them, and people immediately rushed away from the sudden display of magic. A twinge of guilt took root in his heart, but he ignored it for now. He could apologize for bruises later.
The target snapped their head around to see where this new attack came from. Before they could get more than a second’s glance, Din gripped them by the back of the head and made them duck. The two of them ran into the crowd together under the guise of seeking cover. They hugged the buildings lining the street, and Din dragged him into the first alley that opened in front of them.
Din kept running, letting the adrenaline of the situation move him through the shadows, turning corners, not letting the target pause long enough to question him. Once they’d lost sight of the street, Din’s aura glowed at his fingertips, and a long, slim dagger appeared in his palm. He tightened his grip on the target’s shoulder. One jab in the side of the neck. One thrust forward. A horrid gurgling sound, followed by a torrent of crimson.
With a shove, the near-lifeless body slumped to the ground in a growing pool of its own blood. It was messy, but it was quick. Din’s dagger, soaked and dripping, disappeared back into his armory stone. He could clean it later.
Din stood for a moment, catching his breath. An iron smell clung to the roof of his mouth, overpowering. He couldn’t stay here much longer. His blatant show of magic earlier would call the city watch from miles around, probably a court Magician too, if they were unlucky. Between his fingers itched where the Nobleman’s blood dried in the exposed air. His hand curled into a fist as his eyes dropped to the abandoned sword cane lying next to its owner.
Both pieces lay where they’d been dropped, still separated. The exposed tip of the blade showed it had gone at least a full finger’s length deep. A blanket of dread, cool and suffocating, wrapped around his ribcage. The labeled diagram from his mother’s medical textbooks flashed in his mind’s eye, accompanied by a memory.
Pascal sat on Din’s back, squishing the air out of his brother’s lungs as he lay on his stomach in the room they shared. All he wanted was some quiet with this anatomy book. With Mom busy in the clinic, he’d have to settle for moments in between getting smacked in the head by his brother. Pascal leaned forward, breathing too loud for being so close to Din’s ear.
Din took a deep breath and winced. “It’s what’s inside your belly. Now stop squirming.”
Pascal shifted to get a better look at the illustrations, and his elbows dug into Din’s shoulders.
“Looks like WORMS!” He started to bounce up and down. “Worms in your belly!”
Din grunted and shoved the book away. “They’re called intestines , and I’ll strangle you with yours if you don’t stop!”
Din shook his head to clear it and forced the memory to snap shut. Any wound deeper than your second knuckle would hit any number of vital organs. Organs that could bleed or rupture and spell all kinds of disaster for the poor sod they belonged to. Organs that needed medical attention.
Spinning on his heels, Din took off back the way he’d come, leaving his latest victim and the growing pool of blood behind him. He took a different route this time. He didn’t think he’d been followed, but in this business, one could never be sure. As he ran, he shut his eyes, reaching for the voices of weeds between the cobblestones and flowers in window boxes. Pascal was so much better at this, no matter how much he studied the theory of magic. Still, his skill was just enough to get a few snippets of thoughts.
Nice day. Sun good.
The crease between his eyebrows deepened, and Din sharpened his focus. Brother. Red Magician? Where?
The daemons whispered amongst themselves, like the sound of grass rustling in the wind. Din started to think it hadn’t worked until he heard a dandelion shout:
Over here! Friend-brother here! Hurt!
An icy spiral of panic added speed to his limbs.
Pascal hadn’t gotten far.
There he sat, slumped in the shadow of some abandoned crates with his back against the brick wall. He pressed a hand to his abdomen, just under his ribs, and bent double. His shoulders moved irregularly in response to his ragged breathing.
Din ran over and dropped to his knees. His hands moved to brush the hair out of his brother’s eyes, feel the side of his face. The skin was cool. The eyes wouldn’t focus.
And the blood.
Din could worry about that later.
“Pascal!” he breathed. “Thank the Gale. I’m here - its - it’s going to be alright now.”
“Din…” Pascal said the name as if it were something of a surprise. An ugly red mark showed where he’d been hit on the face with the cane, and it was already starting to bruise. “I...I think...I got into trouble this time.”
“Young man, you don’t even know how much trouble you’re in.”
Hands on Pascal’s shoulders, Din slowly eased him down on his side. Pascal winced, letting loose a squeaking whimper as his arms tightened around his stomach. Keep the wound above the heart, or at least, not below it. Blood had already soaked through both shirt and vest and stained the ground beneath him. Spatters marked his path from the street to where he’d slumped against the wall. Anyone who glanced down the alley could easily track them from the street.
Your fault , said the voice in his head. You alerted the target.
Din reached into his armory stone and summoned the stash of emergency medical supplies he kept there. Rolls of bandages and gauze fell into his hand, and he set them aside to peel back Pascal’s bloodied hand from the wound.
“These are supposed to be for me, you know,” he said.
Pascal swallowed hard, his ashen face pinching. “Nice of you...to share.”
Blood welled up from the tear in fabric as soon as the pressure was lifted off. With a sharp inhale, Pascal yelped and his stomach tensed. Din cursed under his breath. He shot a tense look over his shoulder, paranoia of being seen or heard from the street making his heart pound. Upper right quadrant, by the looks of it. Stomach, intestines - thank the Gale it wasn’t his liver, otherwise he’d have bled out by now.
Pascal groaned and knit his eyebrows together. “M’sorry about...about forgetting th’ plan.”
Din summoned a knife to cut away the layers of clothing. The plan? Oh yes, the plan for their mission. The one that had him approach the target first , with Pascal following for backup. Right now, that was the last thing on his mind. He could save the lecture for his brother later.
“Try not to talk,” Din said, “And keep your voice down. We are not very well hidden.”
Whatever Pascal had been about to say, he cut himself off with a strangled noise as Din slipped a wad of gauze onto his stomach and pressed down. His mouth opened in a noiseless scream and he curled in on himself, nearly kneeing Din in the ribs. He bit down on his lower lip to keep in his cries. The skin under his teeth went white, but the rest of his face reddened as he strained to hold his breath.
Din shoved aside the sickening feeling pulling at his stomach. He ached for a free hand to grip his brother’s shoulder. “ Stop talking and hold still.”
Pascal let out his breath in a hiss. Tears fell from his eyes and made his voice thick. “Don’t talk to me like a Noble,” he spat.
Din snapped his mouth shut and swallowed the resentment clawing up his throat. That was hardly fair. He was the older sibling, wasn’t he? He had a right to use however many imperatives he wanted.
Instead of throwing back a sharp retort, he busied himself with stuffing bandages between Pascal’s wound and his shirt. He couldn’t pack it, and they didn’t have enough time for him to sit here and hold pressure until the bleeding stopped. So, this was the next best thing. Until they could get help.
...If they could find it.
“Shhhh, it’s alright,” Din said in a hushed voice. “Everything will be fine.”
Pascal closed his eyes and let his head fall back to the ground, shivering. Sweat darkened his hair and made it stick to his forehead. He still had an arm wrapped around his middle, his hand balled into a white-knuckled fist and trembling.
Din used up the last of his bandages and reached into his stone for more, only to remain empty-handed. Nothing of his remained but for the tiny vial of laudanum.
He tapped the side of his brother’s face. “I need you to drink this.”
Pascal’s eyes fluttered. He squinted up at Din, slowly focusing on the vail in front of his face. His expression darkened, and his eyebrows drew together. He shook his head.
“Pascal, please . I promise, it’s-”
“Can you promise it’s not yours? ”
Din blinked in surprise. A different kind of guilt took root in the pit of his stomach, the kind that made his cheeks burn and the back of his neck tingle. Shame .
Impossible, Din must be misunderstanding, Pascal wouldn’t know about... that. Len didn’t even know, and she had nearly caught him once or twice. It wasn’t like it was a habit , just a...necessity. It was better than a command to stop thinking. Still, he supposed his brother knew about plenty of things he wasn’t supposed to.
Din shook off the feelings clinging to his shoulders like stray daemons. “I only keep this in the armory for situations such as this, I wouldn’t…”
His words had no effect on Pascal, who narrowed his eyes in a glower.
“ Please . It will help with the pain, I promise.”
Pascal winced, but didn’t stop glaring at his brother. “I don’t need it.”
“ Fine, have it your way.” With a huff, Din dropped the vial back into the armory. “This isn’t going to be very comfortable.”
Din slid his arms underneath Pascal and lifted him off the ground. One arm went under his legs, the other around his back. Pascal’s breath hitched in his throat, and he gripped the fabric of Din’s coat in tight fists. He buried his forehead into the crook of Din’s neck as a whimper eeked through clenched teeth.
Thank the Gale for his brother’s slight frame. Din adjusted the weight in his arms and settled Pascal against his chest.
“Where are we…?”
Din strengthened his grip to spite the burning pain behind his eyes. Pascal sounded so weak . “Come on, you need a doctor.”
Don’t think about it.
“Try to relax. Promise - promise me you’ll stay awake.”
Pascal moaned in reply. Casting one last look to the street, Din began walking deeper into the alley. Somewhere in this city there had to be a pyregarden, and who better than the recently deceased than to ask for a doctor?
Din only hoped he wouldn’t add another flower there instead.