The Assassin's Tale: Part 3 by Anwita Vasanth Koodalithazhathuveedu
Asteriva raised one eyebrow in disbelief. “So, you want me to travel to an unknown location to find a flower, and you plan to use it to bring back dark magic?”
“Exactly! So you’ll take the job, then?” She had a feeling that her buyer wasn’t telling her everything. “What choice have I?” she wondered aloud. “Yours is a secretive business – if I refuse, I doubt I’ll leave here alive. Don’t think I didn’t notice the traps, although lava pits are old, don’t you think?”
The man shook his head in admiration. “You’re good, I’ll give you that. But I have a feeling that you’ll need help – let me introduce you to Ciaan.” A woman got up from a table near them, dressed in completely impractical, fashionable clothes – Asteriva groaned on the inside. Everything about this character screamed ‘goody-two-shoes’. But she forced a smile, for payment’s sake. “My name’s Ciaan, what’s yours?” the woman asked. Asteriva turned to her buyer, completely ignoring her. “I was not informed that I wouldn’t be working alone.” The buyer looked vaguely guilty, then said: “You seem unhappy with this small detail- perhaps we should get you to headquarters.”
“The headquarters of what, exactly?” Asteriva inquired. The buyer simply smiled. “You’ll see.”
Honestly, Asteriva thought. If this is the headquarters of one of the richest, most well hidden organisations in Ahoy, shouldn’t there at least be a canteen? Or maybe – heaven forbid – a better entrance? Which was true. It wasn’t the sort of place for a secret entrance for anything, really. They were in one of the most reputable places in Ahoy- the Library. Accompanied by the buyer- he’d asked her to call him John, which Asteriva had decided to ignore – and her new, reputable ‘friend’ (the word ‘friend’ made her gag inside), Asteriva walked up to the librarian. She was wondering how this would get her in, when the buyer spoke, jolting her out of her thoughts. “There’s a book I’m looking for,” he declared. Asteriva furrowed her brows in confusion. Was this a code?
“And what book would that be?” The librarian inquired.
“It’s called Imperium.” The librarian looked left, then right. She moved a jar of pencils on her desk- and the wall behind her slid back. “Welcome, Agent.” Asteriva grinned. Now this was interesting…
They entered a room – Asteriva didn’t see it at first, because the lights were a sharp contrast to the dimly lit tunnel. As it came into focus, she saw a wall of marble, patterned with veins of gold. Turning around, she saw the same thing on all sides – with the unwelcome exception of her client and her ‘partner’ (the thought allowed another groan) standing on her right.
“Welcome to the headquarters of The Order Of Imperium!” her buyer proudly announced. “Here, you’ll be equipped with the best weapons and gear this side of the Misty Isles!” Asteriva didn’t think much of this since ‘this side of the Misty Isles’ basically meant Ahoy, which was more of an exaggeration – the dagger he was giving Ciaan looked more like a stick covered in tinfoil than anything else. The buyer – no, she would not call him John, it was too familiar – handed her another ‘knife’. She turned it over in her hands, threw it up in the air, and cut it in half with her own throwing knife. “Thanks, but I think I’ll use my own,” she declared, leaving the buyer open mouthed.
“You just-“ he stammered.
“Cut your tinfoil covered stick in half with an actual blade? Yes, I did. I’ve got my own gear as well – unless you want me to ‘use’ that too.” And with that she walked out of Headquarters – by her standards, it had been a thoroughly unexciting day.
“So!” Ciaan exclaimed as they started jogging. “Where are we going first? This is exciting, isn’t it, Asteriva? You and me, on a mission where we can get to know each other…” Asteriva stiffened.
“Last chance to back out- believe me, you won’t like my methods.”
“You can’t be that bad, can you? Anyhow, getting to know each other! Hmm… ooh, what’s your favourite flavour of ice cream? I love strawberry, but banana is all right, I suppose!” Asteriva gritted her teeth and jogged on, Ciaan following her lead. This was going to be a long journey.
After what seemed like an eternity, they reached their first mark: The Scurvy Cat, famous cat-run sushi barge/monster hunting vessel, main source of intel in Ahoy. There was always at least one drunken sailor there, droning on and on about some old legend or other. Asteriva walked over to the deck (which doubled as a counter).
“I’ll have the Siren Sashimi,” she said to the waiter. Ciaan shuddered.
“I’ve never liked sushi … how anyone could do that to those poor fish? It’s horrible.”
“Oh, it’s so nice to see someone who cares more about the ‘poor fish’ than their own miserable lives!” Asteriva snarled. “So order sushi, or it’ll be too obvious as to why you’re here.”
“Oh!” Ciaan exclaimed. “That reminds me – why are we here again?”
“We are trying,” Asteriva muttered, “to gather intel about where this flower might be.”
“Ooh, you mean like at the florist?” Ciaan inquired, an annoying childlike innocence in her voice. Asteriva whipped her head around to face Ciaan. How ditzy can this woman get? She wondered. “Just. Listen,” she hissed. “Someone will be talking about it.” And sure enough, after a few minutes, a drunken, droning voice filled the air.
“Oh, theresh a flower thatsh dark as the midnight sky, hidden in the desert greeeeat… cinken, the suty– uhh, no- sunken, the city…” Asteriva got up.
“Ciaan, let’s go. We’re leaving.”
“Why? Don’t you like singing? I-”
“Don’t matter? Of course you don’t. Let’s get moving.”
Sand dunes stretched further than the eye could see. Red-gold sunset light washed over them, sharpening their shadows. All was silent- except for a rather high pitched voice.
“Are we nearly there yet, Asteriva?” Ciaan asked for the fiftieth time.
“No. We’re about a metre closer to the Sunken City, though,” Asteriva replied impatiently, then paused. “It’s getting dark. Let’s set up camp for the night – it’s not much good travelling if you can’t see a metre past your face.” Which is not, Asteriva thought, exactly true. If not for her, I’d be at the City already. But something about her drains my patience. I doubt the Order of Imperium would pay me if I snap and kill her. She glanced over at Ciaan, fast asleep. That’s better. Asteriva grinned. She’ll be so devastated when she wakes up and finds me gone. Alone once more, Asteriva slipped down the dunes and out of sight.
The Sunken City was in sight now. The sun was just beginning to rise – along with Ciaan, most likely. Asteriva thought. But then, just like thinking about her had brought her there, a small line of dust trailed along a dune nearby. Asteriva could just make out the words “Wait for me!”
Asteriva groaned, and slumped backwards on the sand. Looks like I’m not rid of her… yet.
To be continued…