Keeping things even (complete)

sex stories

Chapter one

The Merchant’s Home

I watched the merchant’s home from two houses away. The large gargoyle I was hiding behind was more than big enough to hide me. I watched as the door opened and both the merchant and his annoying wife walked away. I waited until they were down the street further and carefully moved back. I quietly moved to the side of the building and lifted the narrow board. Each end of the board had rags wrapped around it. I pushed the board across the gap between the houses and let the other end down onto the edge of the other house.

Staying on my stomach I crawled across and then moved quietly to the other end of the house. Another board and I was on top of the merchant’s house. I moved to the back and spent a few minutes watching the windows of the house behind the merchant. I unrolled the rope from around my waist and secured it to a crenel. I took a breath and slipped over the side and down the rope.

The first window I came to was a small one into the attic. It was not even locked and I slipped in. I pulled the rope in behind me. Quietly I moved to the narrow stairs down and stopped at the door. It was locked and I pulled out a narrow black case with my tools. I used a small bar with one end that was slim and slid it between the door and the jam. A little pressure up and the door opened. I put my tool away and stepped out into the third floor hallway.

The servants were all out for the evening and I made my way to the stairs. On the second floor I turned left and moved down to the engraved door at the end. I pulled two small tools out of my case and knelt to pick the lock. Twenty seconds later I was stepping into the merchant’s bedroom. There was a second door on the left wall. It was thick and had three deadbolt locks.

I grinned and moved to the door, “people are really dumb.”

I pulled out a long, thin punch and turned to the opposite side of the door. I used the punch to push the center pin out of the three hinges. I pulled on the door and it came out on the hinge side. I moved it sideways and looked into the tiny room. The small chest had a single lock that I was able to pick quickly.

I opened the chest and smiled at the stacks of gold and silver. I left the silver and took the gold. Two hundred gold pieces and a small bar. I closed and locked the chest before putting the door back. I put the pins back in the hinges and cleaned the floor. I locked the merchant’s bedroom door and made my way back to the attic door. I used the slim bar to hold the small locking bar up as I closed the door.

I tossed the short rope out and squeezed out after it. I closed the window behind me and climbed back to the roof. I coiled the rope and stuffed it in my pack before moving back the way I had come. After crossing to the next house I pulled the board after me. I did the same thing after crossing the last board. I moved to the back of the house and almost all the way down.

A light rope lay coiled with the center loop held together by a large metal ring. I put the loop of rope over the nearby crenel and dropped the rope. I held the metal ring and pulled down on the two ends of the rope as I slipped over the side of the roof. I made my way down hand over hand until I was on the ground. I relaxed my hold on the rope and the metal ring drop down the rope. I pulled on one end until the other end finally left the roof and the rope fell.

I coiled the rope and put both the rope and the metal ring in my pack. I slipped through the overgrow garden to the back wall. A jump and I was hanging from the wall. I pulled up and twisted so that my body rolled onto the top of the wall. I glanced up and down the narrow alley before dropping to the ground. I began walking and after a couple of blocks I felt them behind me.

It took another block to see who they were. I almost cursed, it was Sandoval and Sweets. They were thieves guild thugs that enjoyed hurting people. They were also known to have beaten would be thieves to death. I slipped through a narrow opening behind several buildings and came to a small paved courtyard. I pulled the pack off and set it on a narrow ledge and turned to wait.

I did not have long to wait, Sweet slipped in first and then a second later Sandoval. I smiled thinly, “If you leave now I will not hurt you.”

They both grinned as they spread out. I knew Sandoval would be the one to move first, just as I knew Sweet was the dangerous one. I shifted my weight and turned slightly. Sandoval lunged and grabbed at my head. I back stepped and brought my hand down, striking him behind the ear. I spun and kicked in time to catch Sweet in the groan as he came in. As he folded, I stepped further away, Sandoval cursed and swiped at me with a dagger.

I shook my head and pulled a knife from each thigh. Sandoval straightened and lunged forward swiping with his dagger. I stood still and blocked his dagger as my other knife came up under his chin. I drove it into his brain and twisted him into Sweet’s path as he came for me. Sweet stumbled and I struck with my other knife. The sharp blade slid in under his ear and he jerked as he fell to the ground.

I moved away and watched as the two men twitched and convulsed before laying still. I knelt to clean the two knives on Sandoval’s shirt before cutting both purses from their belts. I retrieved my pack and quickly left. I used alleys and small slip throughs and finally walked into the courtyard of the Bright Lady. In the stables I climbed to the loft and went into the back.

I moved the bails of hay to uncover a large chest. I opened my pack and put each item back into the chest. The gold coins and bar I kept and closed the chest and moved the hay back to hide it. I slipped back to the ground and walked into the tack room. From the small cedar chest next to my cot I pulled out the squirrel skin pouches. I had made these special from skins brought to me by farm lads.

I put twenty gold pieces into a couple of small pouches and set the bar aside with most of the gold. I carefully moved a board in the wall and added the small pouches of gold to the stacks already there. I replaced the board and undressed, changing into the clothes of a young stable boy. I checked the two purses of Sandoval and Sweet, there was a lot of silver. I dumped some into my own purse and the rest went into a thick old sock under my bed.

I slipped the bar of gold and the gold coins into my shirt and left. I only had a couple of hours before I had to be back. I walked the dark streets until I came to the Animas Brotherhood. They took care of stray animals and doctored other animals when people brought them to the small abbey. There was a covered kettle with a pull rope beside it.

It was for donations and food people brought. I quietly put the gold in the kettle and pulled the rope and turned to walk away as the bells rang inside the gate. Back at the inn I sighed and got an arm full of wood before knocking on the kitchen door.

Chapter two

Arrogant Nobles

I woke up early and rolled out of my narrow cot. I dressed quickly, it was a little chilly this morning. I stopped at one of the water barrels and splashed water on my face to wake up. In the small courtyard, I began my stretches and exercises. When I finished, I gathered an arm full of wood and carefully opened the kitchen door. A glance to the right showed that Teresa, Ginger and Ms Peace were still asleep.

At the kitchen fireplace I quietly set the wood down and turned to start the fire. I left and brought in the small pieces for the stove and got it started before going out again. This time for another arm load of wood for the common room. After all the fires were going, I went back to the stables. I moved one horse into a vacant stall and fed it before cleaning its old stall. I moved the next horse into the now clean stall and fed it before moving to clean its old stall.

When I was finished, I went out to the street to get the new barrels of water. I rolled them into place and moved the empties back to the street. I put all the old straw and horse manure into one of the newer piles beside the stables. I went to the bench by the back door where Ginger had set out a pan of warm water. I washed and knocked on the kitchen door.

Little Teresa opened the door and smiled as she stepped back. Ms Peace already had my breakfast on the big kitchen table. I ate quietly and was almost done when Mrs. Hoard came in, “Edward, I want you to go to the market this morning with Ginger. You watch over her, you hear?”

I nodded and wiped my face, “Yes />
She looked at Ginger, “You have my list, do not forget />
Ginger bobbed, “No />
Mrs. Hoard nodded to Ms Peace and left. I finished breakfast and went out to wash. Ginger came out a few minutes later and smiled, />
I nodded and followed her out onto the street and moved up to walk beside her. Ginger was looking around as we walked and I led her towards the large city marketplace. It took awhile but we finally got there and she seemed to wake up. She headed toward the spices first and absently handed her basket to me. After spices, it was greens and then a half wheel of cheese. We were almost to the butcher stalls when I heard the ruckus.

I knew it was young nobles acting up but was not prepared for what they wanted. The group was a small one, only six. They surrounded us and backed us against a stall. I set the basket on the stall bench as one of the older boys reached out to fondle Ginger. Another grabbed her shoulder to hold her while two boys closest to me reached out to hold me.

I grabbed one of the boys hands, twisted and wrenched it back, before kicking out into the groin of the other boy. The first boy screamed as his fingers broke and the second yelled as he folded and dropped to his knees. I was moving even before they fell away. Three boys were around Ginger and the fourth had been pulling his pants down.
The one with his pants open was the first to turn and scream as I reached down to grab, squeeze and yank. I kicked the boy groping Ginger in the side of the knee and heard it snap. The other two boys were coming for me and I let them. I shifted and stepped sideways so that one was blocking the other. I brushed a reaching hand aside, grabbing the wrist and twisted as I brought my other hand down in a strike that broke the elbow.

I kicked him behind the knee and spun to back kick the last boy as he rushed in. As he folded over I turned and brought my fist down on the back of the neck. He dropped to the ground and I was left standing with six noble boys on the ground around my feet. I moved to a sobbing Ginger as several shop owners emerged.

Normally they let the young nobles do what they wished but seeing me stand up to them had an effect. As I retrieved our basket and led Ginger away, they were bending the boys over a bench and beating them. I managed to get her to tell me what meat we were supposed to get. News in the marketplace travels fast, the butcher bowed to Ginger and folded her fingers back around the coins she held.

As we were leaving several guards were talking to merchants and the bruised and injured noble boys were hanging from their arms from a large beam. The guards looked in no hurry to get the boys down either. All the way home the streets were alive with gossip and I knew I would have to face the Master. When we got back to the inn, I opened the kitchen door and let Ginger go in first. I looked at Ms Peace, “Something happened. I need to speak with the Master.”

She wiped her hands as she looked at Ginger and me. She nodded and went to the common room door and opened it. She gestured and a minute later the large form of Master Hoard came through the door. He was frowning as he looked from Ms Peace to me. I gestured to the back door and his eyebrows rose but he nodded. I opened the door for him and then followed him out. I kept my eyes down as I told him what had happened and what I had done. When I finished, he was silent for a minute, “You say the other merchants beat them?”

I nodded, “And hung them from the thieves beam.”

He grunted, “It could have been worse, you could have killed one of them.”

I nodded and he reached out to ruffle my hair, “Your momma would be proud.”

He slapped my shoulder, “go back to work. We need wood stacked and water brought in. Mr. Johanson will be here later with his boys for the muck.”

I sighed and nodded, “Yes sir.”

He laughed and headed back inside while I headed towards the wood pile. It was much later, I was filling the wood bin beside the common room fireplace when the three arrogant nobles entered. They looked around and saw me. One said something to the others and they started towards me. I finished as they drew near and turned to greet them, “Good evening my lords.”

I bowed slightly and one moved as if to strike me, I shifted and slid back. I stood and looked at them closely as Master Hoard started across the room. The one in the center put his hand on his dagger, “You are going to learn your place boy.”

I smiled and held out a hand to Master Hoard, “I take it you are the fathers of the boys that tried to rape my charge.”

The man on the right snorted, “Pleasing a noble is a />
I nodded, “So they learned their stupidity from you.”

I gestured to the door, “I give you one chance to leave />
The one in the center growled and pulled his dagger as he stepped forward. I grabbed his wrist with my thumb on the back of his hand. I twisted and stepped sideways, causing him to stumble into one of the others. The other nobles had pulled daggers but as the one I held yelled, I pushed with my thumb and jerked his arm across in front of the other noble while kicking out into the other rushing noble.

My foot slammed into his groin and he folded with a scream. I spun and brought the arm of the noble I held, up over my head. I brought it down on my shoulder, hearing the snap of the elbow before his scream joined the others. I brought my other elbow back in a sharp blow to his face that knocked him to the floor. I spun and shifted sideways as the last noble was finally able to get to me.

He lunged forward with his dagger extended. My hand came down to clamp onto his wrist bending it down. My fist slammed into the side of his head and the dagger dropped to the floor. I was quick to take advantage and waved the Master off, along with several other men that had started towards us.

I used their own laces from their shirts to bind them. I pulled them out to the street one at a time while they struggled and threatened. I used pieces of rope to string the three up. As I found a narrow board, two of the city guard came by. I began to beat the three men and explained that they had entered our tavern and attacked me. I told the two grinning guards that I was chastising them and when I was finished I would release them.

When they stopped yelling and threatening me, I stopped beating them. I turned them to face me, “It does not matter who you are. You are no better than the lowest merchant. Now, you think that you will send someone to take my life. When you do, know that I will come for you and it will not be a beating you get.”

I cut the ropes that held the nobles and let them drop to the ground before heading back into the Inn. The two guards only shook their heads and started walking away.

Chapter three

A lesson in bragging

The next two days were busy as a lot of merchants made their way to our inn. Over large glasses of ale they talked about what I had done. We even had a few nobles wonder in. The city guard had decided they liked the food and could always be found in the inn after their shift. The whole city was still talking about someone stealing a thousand gold pieces from merchant Sims. They called me the Shadow Thief. The bodies of Sandoval and Sweet had been found a day later.

The word on the street was that the thieves guild was furious and had set the whole guild out to find me. Then a noble started becoming the center of gossip. It was Earl Garlan and he bragged that this Shadow Thief was afraid of nobles. He told everyone that I would not dare steal from a noble and they were safe. If he had only said it once I would have ignored him, but he kept bragging and it finally got to me.

The center of the city with the homes of the nobles was separated from the merchant section by high walls called the Curtain. There were four gates through the wall and undoubtedly the thieves guild had a way through as well. The wall was manned by guards that walked back and forth all night. It was after midnight when I slipped over the stable wall and into the narrow alley.

Although I had been doing this for over four years, I never tired of doing it. I moved through the shadows as if I was one of them. At the Curtain wall, I slipped across to stop beside the wall. Where I was it was almost completely black. Two of the street lights had gone out early and there was no one to relight them. I slipped the two steel claws onto my palms and reached up the wall.

The wall was thirty feet tall and it took me a minute to reach the top. I hung there for a few minutes until the guard went past. A minute later I pulled myself over and crossed to the other side. I slowly made my way down and quietly slipped into the shadows of the Nobles retreat.

There were more guards walking the streets that passed me and did not even realize I was there as I blended with the deeper shadows. Earl Garlan’s manor was completely dark as I easily climbed the ten foot wall and slipped over. I looked around and smiled to myself when I saw an open window. The climb to the second floor was simple and I did not even have to use my claws.

I quietly stepped into the room to the sound of very loud snoring. A simple glance showed the room empty of anything valuable. I drifted across the room and checked the door before opening it slightly and looking out. I opened the door wider and stepped into the hall. I walked quietly down the semi dark hall to the narrow servants stairs.

I carefully moved down, testing each step as I went. On the first floor I peeked out and then stepped into the dark hallway. I moved down the hall to the far end where a set of double door were. It only took a moment to pick the lock and then I was slipping inside. I looked around at Earl Garlan’s study and moved behind his desk. There was a large cabinet to one side and I smiled, “it couldn’t be this easy.”

Half a minute later I was opening the cabinet and unshuttering the tiny dark lantern I carried. The shelves of the cabinet were full of stacked coins. I quietly gathered all the coins into my pack and looked at a small pouch gathering dust on the back of one shelf. I opened it to see several large gem stones. I closed the pouch and slipped it into my pack.
I closed and locked the cabinet before shuttering my lantern and moving to the door. Everything was quiet and I slipped out and knelt to lock the door. I heard voices from the direction of the hall and finished locking the door before moving down to listen. It was two men arguing about money and a delivery. It took me a couple of minutes to realize they were talking about robbing an Imperial goods train.

When I had heard enough, I slipped away and made my way back up the servant’s stairs. I returned to the room where I had entered the manor from. The man was still snoring loudly as I crossed his room and climbed out his window. It was as easy going down as it had been climbing up. I had to lay along the top of the wall as two guards walked the street below.

When they were far enough away, I dropped to the street and slipped back into the shadows of the streets. Almost immediately I knew someone was following me. After almost twenty minutes I slipped into a narrow opening behind a nobles stable and in only a minute I was gone as far as my stalker was concerned. I lay quietly and watched as my stalker followed me through the stable yard and out the gate on the other side.

I dropped down from the wall and went back through the narrow opening and across the street. I went down a dark narrow alley behind other noble estates and then through a gap between two walls. The Curtain wall was in front of me and only dimly lit on this side. I put my claws on and crossed quickly and a minute later I was slipping over onto the narrow walk on top.

I risked a look around before going over the outside and climbing down. On this side of the wall I moved slower and stayed in the shadows. There were men everywhere and I knew they were looking for me. I moved carefully through the shadows and paused across from a large compound. This was the king’s hostel for orphans. I moved quietly across the street.

The donation basket beside the gate held a few coins and a couple of loaves of bread. I slipped my pack off and poured most of the gold and the pouch of gems into the basket before standing and banging on the gate. I slipped away and watched from and alley as a old woman pulled the gate open. She glared as she looked around and then looked down at the basket half full with gold coins.

I moved back and began heading home. I finally reached the back of the inn and slipped onto the wall. I did not go over though, someone was lurking in the archway of the stable yard.

I moved along the wall on my stomach until I reached the corner of the stable. I hung from the roof edge and made my way to the peak. Hanging from one hand, I reached down and pulled on the edge of the large vent. The vent swung open and I slipped in. I closed the vent behind me and quietly made my way to the other end of the loft.

In the dark I moved the bails of hay around and opened the chest. I set everything inside and closed the chest. I put the hay back and dropped off of the loft quietly. In my room, I undressed in the dark and pulled on the old clothes of a stable hand. I lay in bed with my hands behind my head thinking about what I had heard in the Earl’s manor.

By the time I had gone in for breakfast, the inn was alive with talk of The Shadow Thief.

Chapter four

Guard Captain joins my practice

It was a day later that it rained. I had brought the wood in and started the fires before I headed back out to the stables for my exercises. People were still laughing at the Earl and coming to the inn to drink so that was good. Since it was raining things would slow down today. I moved to the open area just inside the door of the stable and started stretching.

I was just finishing when the Guard Captain stepped into the doorway. I had only seen him a couple of times. He was a big man that moved well. He carried a slim sword and dagger and did not take crap from anyone. I bowed, “Can I help you sir?”

He grinned, “I heard you knew how to fight and wanted a word.”

I bowed and waved but he only looked around the open area by the door, “What were you doing when I came in?”

I shrugged, “When I was little I was taught a few things. Like how to stretch before I did any exercises. It helps prevent me from tearing />
The Captain grinned, “They were right. Would you like a />
I hesitated, I did not want to embarrass the captain. He must have been reading my mind, “Do not worry if you knock me on my ass.”

I finally bowed and waved to the area in front of me. He undid his sword belt and hung it from a peg. He pulled his boots off and started a few stretches. When he was ready he stepped forward. We slowly circled and I knew this was not going to be easy. I would have to make it look like it was harder than it would be. I also knew in only a few moments that I was much better than him.

His eyes flicked and he lunged towards me, grabbing at my left wrist. I shifted and turned sideways while bringing my right hand down onto the back of his wrist. My thumb was in the back of his hand as I twisted and turned bringing his arm up and over me. He landed hard on his back when I released him as he lost balance. I hesitated and held my hand down to help him up. He was blinking and trying to catch his breath.

The laugh from the doorway made us both look. The captain grinned and took my hand to be helped up. In the doorway was one of the guard Lieutenants. I released the captain and moved back as he changed the way he stood, “Teaches me to not respect my sparing />
I smiled but kept moving. When he shifted and one leg started to lift in a kick I was already moving. I slid sideways and spun lifting my hand. It connected with the heel of the captain’s foot and continued to lift as he kicked. The captain crashed to the ground with a loud thump and shook his head. I again moved forward to hold down my hand. When he was on his feet he shook his head and nodded.

The lieutenant had squatted inside the door and watched as we circled. I could tell the captain was going to let me move first and slid closer. I fainted and when he went to block, I spun and kicked back. I pulled the blow but the captain still went flying back. He rolled and came to his feet with a wide grin. Our practice lasted almost an hour before he stopped and stepped back to catch his breath. He was grinning, “You are very good lad, do you know any weapon work?”

I relaxed and stood up straight, “knife or dagger work, some staff and a little bit of sword play.”

He grinned at the lieutenant, “Somehow I do not think I want to try practicing with a sword.”

The lieutenant laughed, “I do not blame you. All you have been is his practice dummy.”

The captain grinned as he turned to put his boots on, “And I think he was being gentle on me.”

The lieutenant laughed again and I did some stretching before the captain finally put his sword belt on and turned to me, “Do you practice every day?”

I nodded, “The master gave me leave.”

He smiled, “Perhaps we could practice a little dagger work />
I bowed, “I would be />
I watched him leave with the lieutenant before shaking myself. I started doing chores, first the horses and then the water barrels. I became busy in no time and put our practice out of my mind. The few guards that came in for lunch or dinner looked at me strangely but did not say anything. I finished my chores and the master excused me for the night.

I woke to a thick misty rain and shivered as I slid out of bed. I felt good after a night of uninterrupted sleep. I headed for the wood pile thinking I needed to remind the master that we needed another cord of wood. I finished starting the fires and opened the kitchen door to see almost a dozen guards standing in the stable doorway. I stepped out slowly and started across, “Can I help you sirs?”

They laughed and a sergeant I recognized stepped forward, “We came to watch you practice with the />
I looked at them, “Did I do something wrong?”

They all laughed as boot steps sounded from the courtyard archway, “No lad, they came to watch you give me />
The captain walked into the courtyard carrying two wooden daggers. The guards parted and I hesitated before following the captain into the stable. He was wearing a light leather jerkin and two wrist bracers. I nodded as I moved to one side and began to stretch. It was a minute before he joined me and started to almost mirror my stretches.

We finished and he picked up and wooden dagger and tossed it to me. I felt the weighted wooden practice blade and spun it around my hand a couple of times to get the feel. I looked up to see the captain shaking his head while the guards laughed. I shrugged, “The balance is to heavy in the hilt.”

He grinned and his stance shifted to a crouch. I reversed the blade along my arm and moved forward. We circled and I shifted forward more and his dagger struck straight for my chest. I spun sideways as my hand grabbed his wrist and twisted. My dagger went over my hand to swipe across his forearm below his elbow and above the bracer before I released him. I stayed close as he twisted and made a cut towards my stomach.

I blocked and stepped even closer striking his upper arm with the point of my wooden dagger. My hand blocked his knife wrist as my own dagger struck the inside of his thigh and ripped across. I stepped back and shifted as I changed hands and the captain looked between my two hands and grinned as he stepped after me. This time my strikes were faster. He grunted when I pushed past his defense to land a blow on his body. The captain continued through ten defeats and finally stepped back in disgust, />
I flipped the dagger and handed it back by the blade, “I am sorry sir.”

The crowd of guards laughed and the captain glared at them before grinning and looking at me. “How did you get so damn fast?”

I shrugged, “Practice grabbing cheese from a big rat trap.”

The guards laughed again and the captain grinned again, “How about swords />
I hesitated, “I am not really that good with a sword.”

He grinned, “In that case I might actually get to touch you.”

I shrugged, “I try not to let that happen sir.”

The guards roared as they laughed and the captain waved them away. He waited until the last ones had left and looked at me, “I wanted to thank you boy. You have given not only me, but my men a challenge. If a stable boy can do what you have, what about one of the less… upright />
He gripped my shoulder and then left. I cleaned and straightened up before starting my chores. Today was busy as a small group of mercenaries came to the inn. All the stalls were full and in the evening I helped the wood cutter as he stacked another cord of wood. I spent a lot of time in the common room that night. The mercenaries were a loud drunken lot.

When the Master finally called it a night and had Ms Peace lock the kitchen door I left for my bed. The morning was clear and promised to be a good day. There was even more guards in the courtyard when I came out of the kitchen. Three of the mercenaries were still up and leaning against the inside archway. The Captain only glanced at them as he passed. He held two wooden practice swords and a padded jacket that looked like it might fit me. I gestured to the courtyard, “It is dry.”

The captain smiled and joined me in stretching. We had just started when one of the mercenaries laughed and started heckling. The captain’s face reddened as they said a stable boy was the only one he was fit to fight. The guards were silent as they glared at the three mercenaries. Rather than have the guards start something that might spill into the inn… I straightened and looked at the captain, “May I borrow your sword sir?”

He looked from me to the practice swords and then his sword belt. I gestured to the belt and he hesitated before his eyes narrowed. He nodded and pulled the long, slim blade of his sword out of its sheath and reversed it. He handed it to me hilt first and I turned to the mercenaries. I looked at the one in the center, “If I am such a pour challenge perhaps you could put me in my place.”

They laughed and he wave me away, “This is not shoveling manure boy.”
I bowed slightly and half turned to the captain, “I am sorry sir, he seems to be afraid of me.”

The mercenaries shoved away from the wall with a hiss. The one in the center pulled his sword as he started walking towards me, “If that is the way you want it, rat!”

I turned and shifted as he got closer. He did not even pause as he suddenly lunged. I swept across and out slapping his sword away before bringing the flat of my blade back to slap his inner arm. He jerked back and then swung his sword down in a cut. I slapped it across his body before bringing my blade back to slap the flat of the blade against the side of his head.

He went crazy, hacking and cutting at me. I used an eastern technique. Instead of letting his sword hit my blocking sword. I used my sword to turn the force of his blows away. I kept slapping him, on the side of his head, his arms and his body. I finally had enough and when he lunged again I slapped his sword away and put the point of my blade against his throat, “One move and it will be your last.”

He stopped moving as I shifted a half step closer. The other two mercenaries had gone from bragging and laughing to serious. My blade dropped to prick the back of his sword hand and his blade dropped to the ground, “You earn your living fighting. You should know better than anyone to never underestimate your opponent. Never lose your calm, if you get angry, it can kill you.”

I stepped back and gestured to his sword on the ground, “Take your sword and go.”

He knelt while watching me and retrieved his sword. He stood and started for the arch with his friends and then stopped. He turned to face me and bowed before turning and walking away. I sighed and turned to the captain. The guards were all quiet as I held the sword out hilt first, “I am sorry sir, do you still wish to />
The captain laughed and a moment later it was joined by the rest of the guards. The captain bowed after taking his sword, “I think I was just saved from a terrible />
The guards laughed again and the captain shifted to look around, “The boy was right. Never underestimate your opponent. If you get angry, it can kill you. We are city guards, we are the ones to keep the peace, no matter against who.”

He smiled at me and bowed, “Would you consider teaching the guards a couple of days every week?”

I looked at the kitchen door where the master stood, “I would have to get Master Hoard’s permission sir.”

He followed my look as Master Hoard nodded, “Three days if you can my lord.”

The captain grinned and looked around, “Good. I will not be the only one with />
The guards laughed and began leaving.

Chapter five

Imperial threat

I behaved myself over the next week. I did a little scouting though, mostly merchants. I had certain… standards about who I would steel from. Even though I had almost two thousand gold pieces it was not about the gold. It was about punishing someone, taking their wealth as a lesson. The people of the city seemed to understand this even if the thieves guild did not.

The news of the robbery of the Imperial goods train went through the city like a fire out of control. It was worse, one of the men claimed to be the Shadow Thief during the fight. Several of the robbers had attacked the ambassador trying to kill him. The rumors going around were that he swore to find and kill me.

I would have ignored it except they had stolen the Imperial Seal. Over the next few nights I went into secret places and listened to gossip. The robbery had angered the thieves guild and that meant it was not one of them. They were not looking for whoever it was and that told me they knew who the robbers were. I had an idea that Earl Garlan was involved because of the way they ignored him like he was untouchable but with who else I did not know.

Day and nights the streets were filled with guards searching for me. Three days after the robbery I decided to act. In the middle of the night I slipped over the back wall. It took me longer to reach the Curtain wall than normal because I had to avoid searchers. Three minutes later I was standing on the other side watching a patrol walk by.

The Earl’s manor was as dark as the last time I was here but this time the window was closed. After a little checking I climbed to the study window. It took thirty seconds to slip a slim through and open the lock. I locked the window behind me and moved to the desk. I unshuttered my dark lantern and started searching the room. It took almost ten minutes to find the small hidden panel.

The white velvet pouch rested beside several other leather pouches. The Seal was in the pouch and I tucked it away. The other pouches were filled with large Imperial gold coins. I took the other pouches, putting them away in my pack. I closed the panel and moved to the door. I slipped into the hall and heard a few people in the hall.

I made my way to the servant stairs and quietly went up. The second floor was quiet but better lit than before. I made my way to the Earl’s room and quickly picked the lock. I opened the door and slipped in looking around. I moved to the bed and removed a soft rope from inside my pack. From the bed I was able to reach the overhead bean and tie off one end of the rope. The other end of the rope ended in a noose.

I moved a chair away from the wall and under the noose. I moved to the side of the door and squatted down to wait. It was almost an hour before I heard him coming. I could tell he was alone and stood, drawing a knife. I waited for him to close the door before moving. I yanked his head back and put the knife against his throat, “There is a price for telling people you are robbing that you are me.”

He jerked and held still as I pushed him against the wall and slammed the pummel of my knife into the back of his head. I pulled his sash off and bound his hands behind his back while he was stunned. I shoved and forced him onto the chair I had prepared. I put the noose over his head and tightened it around his neck. I moved around in front of him, “Who else was /> When he did not say anything I reached for the chair. His eyes widened, “the Assassins guild!”
I waited and he licked his lips, “It was the assassins guild but they />
I nodded, “Who paid?”

He swallowed, “Duke />
I watched his face, />
He looked away, “He wanted the Seal for some trade />
I nodded and reached out to jerk the chair out from under him. There was a thump and his body kicked as the rope strangled him. I moved the chair back to where I had found it and went to the window. I used a piece of string on the latch before moving out the window. I closed it after me and pulled on one end of the string. When the end came out from under the window it was locked.

I climbed down and went to the wall. I lay on top of the wall for a few minutes until I was sure no one was watching. I moved through the shadows, going deeper into the Nobles retreat. I stared across at the twin Keeps in the middle of a small wooded park. Getting close to the Imperial Keep was easier than I thought. I slipped forward into the shadow of a nearby tree I started across the park.

When I finally reached the wall I almost touched it before bringing my hand back. I looked at the wall and held my hand a short distance from it. I could see the hairs on the back of my hand as they stood up. Magic! The Keep was warded! I thought for a moment. I hesitantly reached into my belt pouch for a pinch of salt.

I rubbed it into my hands and on my climbing claws. I rubbed more on my knees and the toes of my shoes. I took a breath and reached out to touch the wall. When nothing happened, I started climbing. A minute later I was standing on top of the wall looking around. I could see only a couple of guards that looked like they were already asleep.

Getting into the main part of the Keep was simple. The stairway down from the wall was next to a balcony. I unlocked the window and slipped inside. I moved through the empty suite and quietly opened the hall door, it had not even been locked. The hall had several lanterns and at the far end I could see the massive double doors of the Emperor’s suit.

I started down the hall moving carefully and stopped at the double door next to the massive doors. I checked and then silently entered the quiet room. I could hear the breathing of the man and woman sleeping in the bed. I moved to the side of the bed beside the man and pulled a chair closer. I leaned over the man and covered his mouth. He woke with a start but I leaned down before he began struggling. />
I released my hand and he glared as I sat in the chair. I waited and he glanced at his wife before sitting up, “what do you want?”

He was quiet but angry. I smiled and pulled the white pouch out. His eyes widened and then snapped to my face, “I do not like people using my name. The man who robbed you was Earl Garlan. They were supposed to kill you. The Duke of Sargonet wanted you dead and the Seal for some trade documents. I may be a thief at times but I do not steal from his />
I held the white pouch out and he hesitated before taking it. “Why should I believe you?”

I smiled, “I do not really care if you believe me. I only came to return the Seal. Those that stole it will answer to me.”

I stood up, “Good night />
I turned and walked out. I did not hesitate, I walked quickly down the hall and into the room I had entered through. I went straight out the window and over the balcony. On the wall I hesitated to rub salt on myself before climbing down. I slipped into the shadows of the trees and made my way across the park. The streets of the Nobles retreat were still patrolled heavily but I moved through them without being seen.

The wall of Duke Sargonet’s manor was almost twenty feet tall. It was a little harder going up the wall. The stones were smooth and put together closely. I used my claws and reached the top and lay along it watching the inner grounds. I saw two dark shapes drift through the shadows coming nearer. I recognized them when one moved into a patch on moonlight.

They were Dark Wolfhounds and I slowly put my hand back to the bottom of my pack. It took a moment to work the lacing loose and then I was pulling two of the six long thin leather pouches out. I opened the top on each and carefully worked the blood stick inside until it stuck out slightly. I waited and watched the two shadowy Wolfhounds and when they whined and moved closer to stand under me I tossed the sticks out.

As they went after the sticks I slipped off the wall and landed lightly. I moved quickly to the end of the manor and started climbing. I went all the way up to the vent into the attic. It took a few moments to open the vent and then I was inside.

I pulled the vent closed and pulled my dark lantern out. I opened the side a crack and slowly made my way to the narrow stairs down. I used a slim on the door and opened it slowly. The narrow hallway was both dark and quiet, the way all servant floors are. I went down the servant stairs quietly and carefully. Like most nobles I knew he would be keeping his money and other valuables on a lower floor.

The first floor was almost quiet but I heard soft murmurs of guards in the hall. The hallway was semi dark as I moved down it carefully. The large double doors into his study were across from a wide hallway into the entrance hall. At the other end of the entrance hall was a single guard. A second guard was out of sight and every once in a while they would talk.

I watched from the shadows and waited until the guard finally moved closer to the other guard to talk. I slipped out of the shadows and picked the lock on the doors quickly before slipping in and quietly closing the door. I used the dark lantern and started checking the study. It took almost fifteen minutes to find the secret panel.

The lock was strange, it required the Duke’s signet ring. I went to the desk and looked through the drawers. I found the sealed letter and only glanced across the room as I pulled the stick of wax closer. It took five minutes to copy the seal and then I was back at the lock blowing on the wax to cool it. It was another fifteen minutes before I was willing to try.

I carefully fitted the seal to the lock and used my palm to apply pressure while turning. There was a click and the whole panel moved back slightly. I slipped the seal into my pack and slowly pushed the panel open. There was a steep stairway and I used the dark lantern as I headed down. At the bottom of the stairs a large room opened up.

There was a chest and another desk. I opened a chest beside the desk and stared at the stacks of gold coins. I took my pack off and filled it with the coins before moving to the desk. It was not until I found the note that told Earl Garlan to destroy the Seal that I stopped looking. I grunted when I put my pack on, it weighted almost eighty pounds.

I took the note and made my way back up the stairs. I closed and locked the panel before moving to the window. I sat my pack down and crossed to the door. It only took a moment to lock it and return to the window. I opened the window and looked the few feet down to see the two Wolfhounds. I bent and pulled two more blood sticks from the bottom of my pack and pulled them out of their pouches. I held them out to the hounds and they moved closer and took them gingerly.

I sat my pack on the window ledge and slipped my climbing claws on. The Dukes sleeping quarters were on the next floor above me. He had a recessed balcony that I easily slipped onto. A slim bar lifted the latch and I opened the doors. I stepped into the room to the slow heavy breathing of the man in the bed.

I carefully and quietly removed the soft rope on the bed canopy. I moved around the bed and lifted the slim dagger that was sticking out from under a pillow. I reached out and put the blade against the Duke’s throat. His breathing caught and his eyes snapped open. I kept my voice down, “Speak above a whisper and I kill you. Get out of bed and lay on your />
He glared, />
I nodded and pulled the dagger back before pushing it in suddenly. It went in under the ear and up into the brain. The Duke stiffened and started convulsing as I removed the note and dropped it on his body. I moved back to the window and used string to drop the latch after I was out. I climbed back down to the study window and rested on the sill while the two hounds watched me.

I pulled the last two blood sticks out of my pack and gave them to the hounds before picking up the pack and putting it on. It was only a few feet to the ground but I had to hold onto the wall to close and lock the window. I dropped to the ground and the hounds barely looked at me as I walked to the outer wall. It was a long climb up and I lay along the top catching my breath and watching the street outside.

Moving down the wall was harder than going up and I had the feeling I was being watched. Back on the street, I moved into the shadows and slipped into a narrow alley. The pack went over my head and onto a low wall. I jumped and grabbed a beam and lifted myself up. In the blackness of the alley I waited. It was a minute before they stepped into the alley behind me.

These were not untrained killers for the thieves guild, these were assassins. They moved silently down the alley and as they passed under me they stopped. One of them looked around, “Make it easy, show yourself and we will make it quick.”

It was a whisper but I heard it loud and clear. The thin wire slipped out of the inner lining of my vest and dropped around the first man’s throat. Even as they reacted I dropped off the beam and yanked on the wire as I pulled a knife. The second man thrust at me and I shifted sideways, slicing down and then back. There was a grunt as his dagger dropped to the ground.

I shoved and pulled a second knife as he shifted away. I moved with him, staying close, swiping across his chest. There was a tearing sound and I shifted the other way blocking a little seen movement. My second knife stabbed down into his arm as my first knife cut across. There was a gurgling sound as he fell to the ground. I backed away and sheathed my knives.

I used my hands to find my pack and then I walked out of the alley. I stayed in the shadows and made my way back to the Curtain. I stayed in the deep shadows and finally moved to one side. There was a darker area by the door into one of the towers. I moved forward and opened the door as if I belonged there. It was silent and semi dark as I moved through the cots of guards.

I climbed the stairs like a ghost and moved quickly and silently behind the doorway as a guard walked through. He did not even pause as he walked heavily down the stairs. I quietly went around the door and out onto the wall. I only took a moment to pull my pack off and unwind the slim cord from around my waist. I tied it to the pack and started lowering it down the outer wall. A minute later I was on the wall with my climbing claws.

It took me almost an hour to reach the temple of healing. In a basket on their doorstep I poured most of the gold. I shouldered a much lighter pack and slammed a fist on the door. I was in the shadows watching when the old woman opened the door and looked around. She glanced down at the basket and froze. She slowly looked around and then knelt and ran her hands through the gold coins.

A minute later she was dragging the basket back through the door. I smiled and slipped into deeper shadows as I began my way back home.

Chapter six

Stealing from the Assassins guild

All day the talk was about the deaths of Earl Garlan and Duke Sargonet. They had found the note and the Imperial Ambassador had announced that someone had returned the Imperial Seal. The guards were also talking while eating in the inn. They had found the two dead assassins and whispered that they had been high ranking in the guide by the knots found on their tunics.

I was tired all day and managed to catch a few cat naps before evening. The inn was busy until late and I was finally allowed to go to bed. I had no intention of going to bed and changed into my dark clothing and carefully put weapons into place. Tonight’s work was going to be difficult, possibly very dangerous.

Everyone knew where the assassins guild was. It was at the very edge of the city, next to the outer wall. I moved through the shadows slowly and seemed to only drift along like smoke. I watched the guild house from a block away for almost an hour before I moved. I was silent as I moved to the wall and started climbing. Just below the top I stop and began to move along the wall.

It took twenty minutes of slow moving to come to a stop above the guild house. I made my way down and lightly stepped onto the roof. I went to a crouch and moved a couple of feet down the roof to a peeked window. I used a slim to unlock the latch and opened the window a couple of inches. I relaxed and just listened for almost ten minutes before opening the window and slipping in.

I waited in the dark for a couple of minutes and slowly moved to the narrow stairs down. It took me a minute to unlock the door and open it enough to check the hallway. I slipped out and locked the door behind me before moving to the stairs. The stairwell was poorly lit and I moved down carefully. I only hesitated on the first floor before going lower.

The hallway in the basement was a little better lit and I checked before stepping into it. Before I had taken a half dozen steps, a snake crawled out from under a door. I looked at it and my blood went a little cold as I realized it was an Asp. I knelt and used the leather wrapped hilt of a knife to start tapping on the floor. The Asp stopped moving as it felt the vibrations from my tapping.

It turned and headed for the nearest door and slipped under. I stood and started moving again, staying in the center of the hallway. I stopped after a single step at the way the next stone in the floor seemed wrong. I knelt and looked at the way it was raised on one side. I stood and moved around it before going further down the hall. Since I was now looking for things out of place I found the thin trip wire easily.

It took me ten minutes to get to the end of the hall. I had two more snakes come into the hall only to turn away at my light tapping. I examined the door very carefully before moving to the hinge side. I slipped a thin wire into a hole and heard a click before the door started opening. I peeked into the darkness beyond and pulled my dark lantern out.

I closed the door after me and started down another set of stairs. Before I reached the end of the stairs I could hear a loud slithering and came to a stop. I took a breath and unshuttered the dark lantern completely. I froze as I saw the floor wiggling and shifting. I shivered and looked around to see a staff next to the door. I went back up and grabbed it and started down slowly.

As I got closer I realized that these were regular snakes and not poisonous. I was still careful as I used the staff to reach out and move the snakes out of my way. There was only one door in the far wall and that was where I was headed. It took a few minutes to cross the floor and then I juggled the lantern and staff before I was able to pick the lock on the door and open it.

I had to keep moving the snakes out of the way as I slipped into the hall beyond and quietly close the door. There were only three doors in the hall and I rested the staff against the wall beside the first one. It was a simple lock with no traps. The room turned out to be a room with shelves of scrolls. I closed and locked the room before heading to the next room.

The door proved to be booby trapped and it took a few minutes to figure it out. I pick all three locks and waited until I heard the click before standing to the side. I opened the door and waited a minute before going in. There was a huge desk in the center of the room and I walked around it. I looked at the letters on top and then carefully opened the top drawer. I stared at the coiled Asp and moved slowly to pick up a long wooden ruler. I was able to reach in from the side and trap the snakes head with the ruler. I held the snake behind the head and looked in the drawer.

There was a single letter with a broken seal. I picked up the letter and carefully replaced the Asp. I held its head with the ruler while releasing it and then closed the drawer before it decided to come after me. I looked at the seal and then opened the letter and read it. It was from the king’s brother and heir.

It was telling the guild to convince Duke Sargonet to arrange the theft of the Imperial Seal and kill the Imperial Ambassador. He was to make a trade agreement and seal it with the Imperial Seal. As a condition to the sealed agreement, the Emperor’s ward was to be promised to the King’s brother in exchange for the trade concessions.

I carefully folded the letter and tucked it in my shirt before looking around and going back to the door. I relocked the door and crossed to get the staff before I went to the last door. It was trapped and had a false lock. Using my picks it took me a minute to open the door. I held the lantern up as I opened the door. The room was shadowy and only held a single chest sitting in the center of the room, it also had curtains hanging on every wall.

As I stepped into the room a slithering came from one of the walls where a hole was. A moment later I watched as a giant viper began to emerge. It was not just a few feet like a normal viper. As its tail came out and it coiled, I realized it was almost twenty feet long. I was frozen by the door thinking I should run. Instead I slipped my pack off and slowly moved the staff until I was holding it by one end.

I drew a knife with my other hand and lifted the staff. I started tapped a curtain on the wall. The viper’s head jerked and it hissed before drawing back. I watched the snake carefully but I still almost missed it. The snake was coiled almost ten feet away and when it struck I was already moving. I brought my knife down as I leaped towards the end of the staff.

I hit the viper behind the head as it hit the curtain and the wall. The knife cut in and I hit bone hard before jerking back and spinning away. Its head spun to strike at me but I had moved just far enough away for it to miss. I backed to the door quickly while it jerked and spasmed. I squatted and picked up the dropped staff and moved sideways.

Slowly the viper coiled and again I almost missed its strike and that almost killed me. I jerked the staff around across my body at arms length. It hit the head of the striking viper knocking its head to the side. I struck point first with my knife driving it through the spine before releasing it and jumping back. The viper was writhing around on the floor lashing out with its whole body.

I waited but it was not going to recover. I moved to the chest and knelt to examine it. There were no traps, I guess they thought the viper was enough protection. It only took a moment to unlock the chest and then I was looking in at a very large pile of gold coins. I filled my pack and then cut a large piece of curtain and poured the rest of the coins in the middle. I tied it off and finally turned to the twitching snake.

I moved forward and put a foot on the huge head. I grabbed the knife still through its spine and started cutting. When the head came free, I kicked it away. I had thought about this and began skinning the snake. When I finished removing the skin, I rolled it up and tied it with a strip of curtain. I looked around and put my pack on before picking up the sack I had made with the snake skin in my other hand.

I moved to the door slowly and closed it. It took a minute to relock the door and set the traps. The outer chamber was still crowded with snakes but they moved out of my way quickly. In the hall above I moved down it carefully, avoiding the traps with care. My way up the stairs was full of the sounds of voices. I was very careful when I slipped out the window and locked it behind me. I moved to the wall and set everything down including my pack. I unwrapped the light rope from around my waist and tied everything together.

I climbed up the wall very slowly so I would not draw attention. This time I slipped onto the walkway. There were only guards above the four gates into the city so I was safe. I slowly pulled everything up and put my pack back on. I moved away and headed for a distant tower with its stairs down. Moving through the streets with the weight I was carrying and staying in shadows took a long time.

I finally stopped across from the King’s chapel. They were the ones to feed and shelter the poor in the city. I finally moved forward and knelt on the steps. I pulled one of their bread baskets in front of the door and filled it first with the coins in the curtain and then from my pack. The door creaked and before I could move away an older monk looked out. He looked straight at me and then into the basket I was pouring the gold coins into.

I smiled and held a finger to my lips before finishing. I swung the almost empty pack back into place and turned to walk away. My course was shifting and when I finally arrived at Judgment square I stayed in the shadows until the two guards moved away. I crossed to the Speakers Stand and unrolled the snake skin. I draped it across the front of the stand and quietly slipped into the shadows as a couple of guards walked into the square.

At first they did not see the skin and when they did they began calling other guards in. I moved away and carefully made my way back to the Inn and the stable.

Chapter seven

A gift to the King

I woke early and slipped out of bed. Getting the fires going and adding extra wood did not take that long. I began my walk to the guards barracks by the Curtain wall. I was thinking about what to do about the letter from the King’s brother. I could not just kill him like Duke Sargonet or the Earl, well I could but was not going to.

The only thing I could think of was to give the letter to the King or exposing myself and that meant he would see me and possibly recognize me. I looked up at the two dark figures blocking my way. My eye’s flicked to the single knot on a string hanging from their jerkin. I looked into their faces and started to walk around them when one side stepped. I shifted my feet, “Can I help you?”

The one in front of me snorted, “We have heard of you stable boy. You think you are />
The other cleared his throat and the first shrugged, “Why are you out so early?”

I looked back and forth, “I have a lesson this />
They gave each other a look and opened the way. I bowed slightly, “Thank you sirs.”

I went back to walking but started paying attention. There were a lot more people out then normal and most I knew were either thieves or assassins. I walked into the practice yard beside the barracks to see the Captain and another man I recognized. He was Duke Godfree uncle to the King. He was an older man and I hoped he did not recognize me.

There were several guards stretching like I had shown them. I moved to the side and tried to relax before I started stretching. A moment later I was lost in the moment as I bent and stretched. When I stood up I was face to face with the Duke. He smiled and held a hand out to me, in it was a wooden practice sword. I knew this was going to be different even before I accepted the sword.

I followed him to the center of the yard. What followed was almost a dance of strikes and parries, lunges and blocks. When the old man stepped back I knew he had recognized me and waited. He bowed slightly, “You do your mother proud.”

I bowed slightly but kept quiet. He sighed, “I wish it had been otherwise boy, your mother was the best I ever trained. Right or wrong, killing a member of the Imperial family in a tournament, even if he did />
He shook his head and remembered where he was. He looked around at the silent guards around us, “Say nothing of what you heard.”

The guards all nodded and the Duke turned to leave. He only took a single step before looking back at me, “Stay in the shadows boy.”

He walked away as I shivered, he knew! I looked at the guards and realized they thought he was still talking about my mother. I moved to the captain and handed the practice sword to him, “There were assassins in the street this morning. They were stopping everyone and asking their />
He nodded and laughed, “The Shadow Thief stole their treasure and killed their idol.”

I stared at him and looked at the other guards who nodded. One grinned, “Someone I will not name even told me a very large basket of gold coins was given to the poor.”

I grinned, “He stole their treasure and gave it away?”

They all laughed and the captain slapped my shoulder, “I wanted you to go over some of the unarmed stuff.”

I nodded and moved back and looked around. I picked one of the larger men and they all grinned as he groaned. I began with simple blocks and holds. Once they had seen it, I had them pair up and practice. I moved around checking and correcting. I was still thinking of what I was going to do about the letter. I knew in my heart that I had to see him.

I left the practice yard later than normal and made my way back to the inn. The streets were alive with talk and gossip. Mostly about the snake skin left in Judgment square on the Speakers Stand. At the stables, I began my chores and was mostly ignored.

I did have to run a couple of errands to the brewers and to the marketplace. I was returning from the marketplace when another assassin stepped into my path. By his two knots I knew he was only an assassin and not one of their masters. I waited and he snarled, “Your />
I looked at him curiously and shook my head, “Go away. I have things to do.”

The dagger that dropped into his hand gave me a reason. I shifted and turned my body as he reached out to cut my face. Something they had started doing, they called it marking. My hand wrapped around his wrist and twisted as it bent the dagger back. I shifted again as his other hand disappeared into his shirt. I spun and straitened his arm before letting him go. He kept going and stumbled into a dung cart before catching his balance.

I followed after him and as the poisoned spike came out of his shirt. I slapped his face and turned slightly to catch his hand and twist. I let the spike drop before slapping him again. When he thrust with the dagger, I slapped it away and slapped him yet again. The street was filled with laughter as I kept slapping him and turning his meager attacks with the dagger away. When the laughing stopped, I stepped back, “Next time leave me to my />
I turned to see not one but two master assassins facing me. I bowed slightly, “Your apprentice needs more />
They were both stone faced but the one on the right glanced at the assassin I had humiliated. He looked back at me and smiled slowly, “Perhaps you would like to try us.”

I smiled but did not back up, “If I were to face two masters it would not be with bare hands and I would have to kill you.”

They were both attentive now. I guess it was time, my mother and father were both dead and no one could touch them. I straightened, “My name is Edward Fury and I am an Imperial />
They jerked as if I had struck them. They slowly raised their hands and backed away. They were gone in a moment and I glanced around before I turned to start walking again. I headed straight back to the Inn and walked into the stables and climbed to the loft. It took a little work but I managed to bring the large chest down and drag it into the tack room.

In the bottom of the chest was the clothes I needed and I changed quickly. I walked through the kitchen and ignored the girls as they gasped. I walked into the common room and Mrs. Hoard turned with her mouth open to berate whoever it was that came out without permission. I ignored her as the room quieted to silence. Master Hoard turned and straightened. He hesitated only a moment before taking a knee, “Lord Fury.”

I smiled, “Samuel, you have known me since I was a lad.”

I looked around and sighed, “I met Duke Godfree this />
He looked up quickly before looking around the room. I shrugged, “I also just had a… discussion with two Master assassins. They decided not to waste anymore of my time.”

He swallowed and nodded, “Will you stay or go?”

I smiled, for now. Something is wrong here, I can feel it.”

He nodded and took a big breath before standing. I turned and started to walk back to the kitchen. I bent next to Mrs. Hoard and whispered in her ear, “Take your husband upstairs, he needs to talk to you.”

I headed back to the stables and went back to my chores. We had several people come in and they all reacted the same way when I took their horses. I stayed quiet and it was a long time before things began to wind down. I finally headed to the stables and changed into dark clothing before lying down. It was another couple of hours before the sounds of the night truly went quiet.

I waited another half hour and got up. I headed for the loft and the black darkness of one end. There was not even a vent on this end. I had fixed a few boards long before and now removed the three I needed. I slipped out and onto the narrow wall. I waited and listened for awhile and dropped into the shadows below the wall. Now more than before I needed to move unseen.

The shadows were my friend and I slipped through them as only a spirit could. I had been right, a lot of people were watching the Inn. It was an hour before I broke through unseen and headed towards the Curtain wall. I was watching the wall from a darkened alley when clouds covered the moon and everything got darker. By the time it had passed I was on the wall and peeking over the top. The guards had been doubled which did not surprise me.

Between one heartbeat and the next I rolled over the top and took a step before rolling over the other side and hanging from my claws. My descent was very slow and when I reached the bottom I waited in the shadow of the wall while a dozen guards walked by. Moving through the Nobles retreat was slower with more guards walking the street. I finally slipped through the shadows of the small wooded park. Even here there were guards.

It took me over a half hour to reach a tiny section of wall that was in shadow. Unlike the Imperial Keep, the wall here was not protected by magic. I hung from the top of the wall for ten minutes before I got my chance to slip over. The inside of the King’s Keep was different. I climbed down the inside wall easily. There were a few shadowed spots that shielded me from guards eyes.

I climbed the corner of the inner manor and stopped on the second floor. I slowly made my way along the face of the manor. Guards walked past several times and never even glanced up. The large window into the King’s chamber was easy to unlock and open. In the dim light from the window I could see both the King and his wife as they slept.

I crossed to the chair beside the bed and moved it closer. I took out the letter and reached out to touch the King. His eyes snapped open and his hand reached for the dagger hanging from the bed post. I stayed in the chair as his hand stopped moving. He was looking at me now and finally sat up, “So, you are here for me.”

I smiled and shook my head, “If one of us comes for a royal it will not be in the dark of the night.”

He blinked and nodded, “You took Earl Garlan and Duke />
I nodded, “They were traitors to the Empire.”

He frowned, “With no />
I smiled, “Believe me, they had a trial and were judged by the evidence against them. My judgment, My execution. The Earl and the Duke were both pawns. The Assassins guild was the tool and your brother was the one to plan it.”

He opened his mouth and I held up the letter, “This is the letter he sent to the assassins guild.”

He looked at the letter and seemed to sag. I held the letter out, “I could take him by the laws of the Empire but I will give you the chance to see to his fate.”

He hesitated before taking the letter, Why did he do it?”

I looked at the letter, “It says he wanted a trade agreement sealed with the Imperial Ward as his bride. I believe he intended to have you and your family killed.”

The King looked down to the letter in his hand, “It is still hard to believe… that he />
I nodded and stood, “Choose well King.”

I crossed to the window and slipped out. There was no alarm sounded and it took me awhile to get out of the Keep. Crossing the Nobles retreat was as hard as it had been earlier. It took a lot longer to climb over the Curtain wall and make my way back to the Inn.

Chapter eight

Being Hunted

The next day was one the city would remember. The King marched into his court with the Captain of the guard and several of his knights. He arrested his brother Jacob and tried him right then. Before the hour was up the prince was hanging from the Curtain wall. The nobles were all shocked and stunned that the King would have his own brother executed.

The assassins guild was just as shocked when the city guards began arresting them on sight. Their guild house was burned to the ground. I went back to wearing the clothes of a stable boy and even though we had a lot more people than normal come to the Inn they did not really realize who I was.

As the week slowly passed, things began to slow down. I began hearing things about the thieves guild. They were offering to merge with the remaining members of the assassins guild. The whispers also said they were going to do something about the Guard and possible the King.

The next day everyone was talking. There had been a break in at the City Guard headquarters. Five guards were dead and three more were injured. The Guards treasure, its entire budget was stolen. They were furious and wanted revenge. If the location of the thieves guild had been known they would have burned it down with everyone inside.

I had decided it was time to check out the thieves guild and perhaps tomorrow night relieve them of the burden of their treasure. I slipped into the shadows like normal and made sure I was away from the Inn before I started looking for a thief I knew. When I found him it was in a small grog shop. I went to the back and waited in the shadows. There were a few people that made their way past me in the alley but finally after almost two hours Norris came out.

I stayed in the shadows as I drifted after him. It was not long before he stopped and looked around. He was outside a large abandoned manor. He finally slipped through the back gate and I nodded. This was their Guild house. I began moving away and after only a few feet knew someone was following. By the time I reached the corner I knew it was an assassin.

I kept going as if I had not noticed. Halfway down the next street I walked across the street into a narrow alley. I was almost to the next street when the assassin began to close quickly. Just before I reached the street he made his move. I side stepped the knife from my left thigh sheath coming out and slicing across. I watched the body fall and his dagger tumble out into the street.

I turned and walked back to the other end of the alley and headed down the street. It was not long before I knew there were more following me. This time I knew it was a thief, I even knew her. She was a dried out old woman with a heart of flint. I turned a corner and stepped into a darkened shop doorway. It was only moments before she appeared and peeked around the corner.

When she did not see me, she cursed and ran past me down the street. I slipped out and back around the corner and started across the street. At the next alley I turned and headed into the darker shadows. I knew right away that I was not alone in the alley. I stopped and relaxed, listening to the night around me. After a few minutes he moved, drifting closer.

I shifted, pulling both knifes and reversing one. He came with a rush and a yell. I caught his blade on one knife as I turned, stabbing through his neck with the other. I waited as his body tumbled to the ground and began twitching. I knelt and cleaned my knife before heading towards the other end of the alley. I crossed the street and went into the alley on that side.

Halfway down the alley I turned right in a smaller slip through. I reached the street as a dark figure spun out of the shadows to one side. He was stabbing for my chest as I twisted and my hand came up. I grabbed his wrist, bending and twisting, the dagger followed the hand and I shoved. As it went into his throat and up into his brain another came at me.

I spun to the side, shoving the body towards the new attacker. This was a dance I knew well. The knife on my left thigh slid into my hand and followed the body, passing over it as my attacker tossed it aside. He was not in time to block the knife as it went through his eye and into his brain. I yanked my knife out and looked around as the only thing that could be heard was the jerking of the two bodies.

I knelt and wiped the knife clean before putting it away and moving down the street. A minute later I ducked into a dark service way and made my way to the other street. I hesitated and then crossed into the darker shadows on the other side. I stayed in the shadows as I began to move slowly down a dark alley. I could almost feel the night, alive with enemies chasing me.

I turned onto a darkened street and tried to head towards the Inn. I took a few steps and then three men moved out of the darkened doorways. They were like the last two, thieves, not assassins. Both knives came out as I moved away from the wall and out into the street. The first lunged and I cut across his wrist and then his throat. I used the motion to turn and meet another lunging dagger with a block. My other knife slid over the top of his arm to cut across his throat as I stepped closer shifting around behind him.

The last man had rushed in and was now trying to push the falling body aside. One knife stabbed through his forearm and twisted. As he turned and screamed, I stepped into him. My other knife went in under his arm and sliced back and forth before I pulled it out and let the dying man fall. I knelt and wiped my knives clean before heading towards the end of the street.

I was at the corner when two assassins started across from the other corner. They moved apart as they closed and I pulled my knives again. I began a shifting cross foot movement that made the two frown. I knew from their actions that they were not masters. As one attacked I spun, blocking, almost sliding down his arm as I spun. My other knife slammed into his ear and continued into his brain. I let it go with his falling body and pulled a slim stiletto from my forearm as I blocked his partner’s blade with my other knife.

His other hand stabbed for my throat and I shifted sideway and turned. Using the stiletto, I pushed the slim poisoned blade further away as I cut through his wrist with my knife. I brought the stiletto under his arm, stabbing into his side in a quick jab. The tip of the stiletto punctured his heart and he jerked and stumbled back. I ignored him and bent to pull my knife out of his partner.

I cleaned my weapons and only glanced at his body as I went around the corner and into the shadows I found. Halfway down the street I crossed and headed into a dark slip through. I came out in an alley and turned towards the Inn. Before I reached the end of the alley a dark shape stepped out and raised its hands towards its face. I spun aside as the poisoned dart flew by where I had been.

A dull throwing spike dropped into my hand and my wrist flicked out as I continued to side step. There was a gurgling sound as the assassin dropped to his knees and then fell onto his side. I turned and headed back the other way. At the end of the alley I waited in a darkened doorway before slipping into the shadows of the street. It seemed that at every turn there was someone waiting or watching.

I finally turned and headed toward Judgment square. Now they only watched as I passed and I knew something waited for me when I arrived. When I stepped into the square I found a man waiting in front of the Speakers Stand. I moved forward and he turned to meet me. One glance told me I was facing the assassins guild master.

I knew several things about him; one, he was one of the most dangerous men in the city. Two, he had no mercy in him and would kill just because he could. Three, he was very fond of poison, like under his fingernails or on his breath. I stopped several feet away and waited. He only looked at me unconcerned. He smiled slightly, “The />
I kept quiet and continued to wait. He frowned, “You will be the second peacemaker I have killed. The last was a woman. She was very good.”

I remained still as my mind went wild and then settled into an icy calm, “You took her ring?”

He pulled on a thin chain that was around his neck. From under his shirt a silver ring appeared. I nodded, “Then you have just made your last />
He smiled as he shifted, “And what mistake is that.”

I shifted closer, “You told me you were the one to kill my mother.”

He started and one hand twitched. I spun, avoiding the small poisoned dart before catching one of his hands as he jabbed it towards me. I caught it at the back of the hand and twisted bringing it up and around as my other hand brought my knife up. I blocked his striking dagger with my knife, pushing it in across his body. I continued the movement with my knife and cut across the wrist I still held.

I released him, turning to the side and stepping as one of his feet struck towards my leg. He backed up and I followed staying close. I could see that this made him nervous and unsure. He swiped with his dagger and I twisted, grabbing with my hand bringing my knife up to stab through the bones in his wrist. I twisted and jerked it out as I side stepped and blocked another kick.

He cursed and lunged with the dagger. I spun, my other knife coming into my hand as I blocked his dagger. My other knife struck quickly in and out under his arm. He staggered back and the dagger switched hands. He made another cut at me and I blocked and stabbed into his thigh, cutting the artery. He threw himself back and I followed staying close so he could not throw another dart.

I started moving sideways circling him. He turned as I moved, his eyes narrow, glaring. I reversed my right hand knife as his weight shifted. When he lunged, I was ready. I stabbed through the back of his hand as I turned into the lunge. My other knife stabbed forward as he started to reach out with his other hand. My knife went through his neck and I ripped it forward as I jerked back and away from his clawed hand.

He dropped to his knees as I moved sideways and then he was falling forward. I watched his convulsing body as well as keeping an eye on the assassins around the squire. I could see their amazed look and bent to yank the chain from around his neck. I pulled the ring off the chain and dropped the chain before bringing the ring to my right hand. It seemed to get warmer and grow before I placed it onto my finger and then it glowed for a moment.

I looked around the square and knelt beside the guild master. I cleaned my knives and stood to leave as I realized the assassins that had watched were gone. I slipped into the shadows and began to make my way to the Inn. There were still thieves out and they were still looking for me but the assassins seemed to have disappeared. It took awhile but I finally slipped into the stable and made my way to the tack room. A check showed no snakes in my bed or any other traps around the room or in the stable.

Chapter nine

Thieves Guild treasure

There was all kinds of talk the next day when I went to the Guard barracks to give a lesson. The guards were still angry at the thieves guild but it had settled into a cold anger. They talked about finding the assassins guide master in front of the Speakers Stand. I walked back to the Inn watching everything as I went. The shopkeepers seemed happier as did everyone on the street.

I smiled and did my chores easily, Master Hoard had come out once while I was brushing a new horse down. He watched for a moment and then almost gasped as he sucked in a breath. I glanced at him to see him staring at my hand. I smiled and held it for him to see, “I killed the one that took mother.”

He looked at me, “the assassin guild master?”

I nodded and he smiled, “I hope you made him hurt before to end.”

I smiled, “he knew it was coming.”

I spent to day on common chores and it seemed to go quickly. The guards seemed happy so I thought that they might have located the Thieves guild house. I slipped away as soon as it grew dark and crossed the city using alleys. I had a harder time avoiding the few thieves that were out or the groups of guards.

It was not long before I was squatting on the roof of a nearby manor. I had seen several groups of guards on my way here and knew it would not be long before they attacked the guild house. I stood and took three running steps and leaped into the night. I landed lightly on the roof of the guild house and quietly moved to the peak on the roof.

I leaned over the eve and reached down to tug on the vent. It groaned and then slowly pulled out of the frame. I lifted it up and set it on the roof. I went over the side and swung into the attic. I quietly made my way to the door down. I used a slim between the door frame to raise the door latch and cracked the door open. I could hear talking from several rooms as I crept to the servant stairs.

I was not surprised when the stairs continued down into the basement. I heard voices from behind one door as I silently made my way down the basement hallway. They were talking about all the guards, trying to decide what to do. One of the doors at the end of the hallway had a large lock on the outside. It only took me a half minute to unlock it and open the door.

Inside were two chests against the back wall. I quickly entered the room and quietly closed the door behind me. I was moving towards the chests when a loud yell went up and then screams. The chests were full of jewelry and gold coins. I filled my pack with all the gold coins and stood thinking as the smoke drifted down to me. There were shouts and screams and I thought the guards might have just blocked the doors and started the manor on fire.

I only hesitated before picking the other chest up and lifting it to my shoulder. I moved to the door and cracked it open. The hallway was clear and I slipped out and moved quickly to the servants stairs. I only paused on the first floor to listen to the screams and then continued up. On the top floor I went straight to the open attic door and started up slowly.
The attic was empty of people but smoke was beginning to fill it. I set the chest and my pack down by the vent and unwound the rope from around my waist. I tied the rope around the chest and halfway up the rope I tied the pack. I leaned out the vent and reached up for the eve. I could not see through the smoke and had to feel my way. I swung out and lifted myself onto the roof before turning to pull on the rope.

First my pack came up and I set it beside me before pulling the chest up. I gave the next part a lot of thought and untied my pack and put it on. Several running steps and I leaped the wide gap between buildings. I barely made it and knelt to set my pack down before turning back to face the other building. I pulled the rope taunt and then the chest tipped.

I pulled the rope faster as the chest went over the side and dropped to the end of the rope. It swung into the side of the manor I was on and luckily did not break. I pulled it up quickly and swung my pack on before picking it up. I carried the chest to the other end of the roof and knelt to start lowering the chest down that side of the building.

There was a dark alley below and the chest settled next to the wall. I released the rope to fall on top of the chest and pulled my climbing claws on. The climb down was much harder with the weight of my pack. In the alley I untied the rope and wound it around my waist. I put the chest on one shoulder and drifted into the shadows of the night.

The night was a lot busier than normal as people finally responded to the threat of fire. I made it to the Guard headquarters and watched until I saw my chance. I slipped into the barracks and made my way to the other end. There was a thick door partially open into the headquarter side. It was quiet since everyone was at the thieves guild or helping contain the fire.

It did not take much to find the thick door into the treasury. I slipped in and set the chest in the center of the room. I took my pack off and poured all the coins out on the floor. I walked out and looked around before returning with a pike. I used it to hold the door open and then carefully slipped out the way I had come in.

It was almost impossible to move through the city without being seen. Everyone was out talking about the fire or going to fight it. I finally slipped over the wall and into the stable. I changed and headed into the Inn through a side door. There were several customers sitting with Master Hoard. He glanced at me and stood up excusing himself. When he stopped in front of me, he whispered, “Did />
I shook my head, “The City Guards were getting even with the Thieves guild.”

He looked a little startled and then grinned as he headed back to his table. Their talk was more animated as I slipped into the kitchen. Ms Peace looked up in alarm and then seemed to relax, “The fire?”

I smiled at her and the girls huddled together on her cot, “Across the city. A lot of people are working to put it out.”

She nodded and squeezed the girls as I continued through and out into the courtyard. I brought in an little more wood and then buckets of water. Since everyone was still up and we had more people come to the inn and started helping in the common room.

It was a long time before the city quieted.

Chapter ten

Lesson in the Marketplace

The talk the next day was wild. They had contained the fire at the Thieves guild. Everyone in the guild house had died from the smoke. The chest full of jewelry and the gold coins had been found. I started the morning off by having to muck the stables out and ended up having to wash almost everything I owned in a trough.

I was wearing the clothing of an Imperial Peacemaker with my crest when Mrs. Hoard stepped out the kitchen door. She hesitated and then cleared her throat. I straightened, “Yes />
She smiled, “Could you escort Ginger to the market again? There are rumors of gangs hanging around and I want to make sure she is safe.”

I smiled and nodded, “Of course />
Ginger slipped around her with a basket and Mrs. Hoard nodded to her, “do not forget anything Ginger.”

Ginger nodded and grabbed my arm pulling me along with her. She kept looking at me and finally she smiled, “You look nice.”

I smiled as two burly merchants stepped out of our way quickly. “Thank you. You look lovely today.”

She grinned, “Mrs. Hoard said I could have the afternoon off.”

I glanced around and frowned as I saw several older boys from gangs. “What are you going to do?”

Ginger squeezed my arm as she realized something was wrong. “I wanted />
It was as if a bell had gone off. We had just entered the marketplace and I saw a couple of dozen older boys pushing off from walls. They were not after me, they went for the merchants. I pushed Ginger sideways into the booth of a merchant and kicked out into an on rushing boy. I grabbed the merchant’s broom and spun. The end with the brushes cracked into the side of another boy’s head.

I hit the stall to knock the broken end off and stepped away from the booth. I started moving down the isle and three boys turned from wrecking another stall. I slammed the broom handle against the side of one boy’s head and side stepped to kick another in the groin. The third boy rushed me as I straightened and brought the handle straight up between his legs.

I moved away as he screamed and fell to join the other two boys. I came up behind two boys trying to climb over the counter of a merchant’s booth. The broom handle came down hard on the back of one’s head and he dropped to the counter. The other boy spun around and leapt at me. I side stepped and brought the handle down in a loud crack on the back of his head as well.

I moved away, glancing back down the isle to see the merchants tying all the boys up. Another group of boys ran into me at the end of the isle. I slammed the end of the handle into the first boy’s stomach and spun to knock a knife out of another’s hand. Shoving the handle straight back behind me made another scream as he grabbed his groin and dropped to the ground.

I side stepped one rushing me and grabbed his arm. I spun, letting his momentum carry him as I released him and he ran face first into a stone wall. I spun the handle around my wrist as a boy closed with a dagger in his hand. He jumped back and the handle shot out to strike him in the forehead.

As he slumped to the ground unconscious another took his place. I brought the handle back and then brought it down on a boy’s head as he bent over holding his stomach and spun, bringing the handle around to slam into the side of another boy’s head. I shifted sideways and swept the handle down and back knocking a boy’s feet out from under him as he started to swing a club at me.

While he cursed and fell I moved forward spinning the handle over my head and bringing it down sharply on the shoulder of a large boy getting ready to throw a dagger at a merchant. I looked around at the boys around my feet as they whimpered and groaned before heading towards a group of three boys. They were beating on a large wooden bench a merchant was holding up to keep them out of his booth.

I hit one behind the knee and then brought the handle around to strike him in the head as he fell. The other two boys spun away from the merchant and one swung his club at me. I caught it on the handle between my hands and cracked him in the head with one end of the handle. I shifted and sidestepped the third boy as he grabbed at the handle. I brought one end around to slap his hand and then jabbed the end into the pit of his stomach.

I looked around to see the city guards rushing into the marketplace and headed back to get Ginger. I found her behind a young merchant who was sitting on a pile of tied up boys. Ginger held an iron pot lid in one hand and a frying pan in the other. I grinned and then laughed as I got closer and saw two boys on the ground at her feet begging her not to hit them again.

Ginger looked at me and then smiled before going back to glaring at the boys at her feet. It was only a few moments before a couple of guards came down the isle pulling the tied up boys to their feet. When they got to Ginger, I was sitting on the merchants counter talking to him. The guards looked from Ginger to the boys to me. I held up my hands, “I did not do it. They were begging her not to hit them again when I found them.”

They looked at Ginger and then started laughing as they pulled the boys to their feet and tied their hands behind their backs. Ginger shyly handed the pot lid and frying pan back to the merchant, “Thank you.”

The merchant smiled as he took the offered items, “You are />
He hesitated and then blurted, “Can I see you />
Ginger looked startled and looked at me before smiling at the merchant and nodding, “I work in the Bright Lady. I usually get a half day off every week.”

She bit her cheek, “I get a half day />
The look on the merchants face was priceless as his eyes widened and he nodded, “I will find you.”

I took Ginger’s arm and led her away while she kept looking back. It took a couple of minutes to get her to remember what we needed to get. She kept this smile on her face the whole time we shopped and I had to keep an eye on how much she paid the other merchants. By the time we got back to the Inn the whole city was talking about the gangs attacking the merchants.

There was even a laughing rumor about Ginger and her frying pan even though they did not name her. Mrs. Hoard was waiting inside the kitchen, wringing her hands. Ginger only absently handed everything to Ms Peace before heading out to clean tables.

Mrs. Hoard looked at the closed door behind her as if she had been watching a stranger. She looked at me and I could see her question. I grinned, “She met a young />
Her eyes went wide and Ms Peace put her hand over her mouth. Little Teresa looked back and forth, />
Mrs. Hoard looked at the door into the common room, “Did he like her do you think?”

I laughed as I headed for the back door, “I would start planning her wedding and look for another girl to replace her.”

Chapter eleven

A visit from another shadow

There was still talk of the gangs the next day but at noon the talk of war swept it away. I was back in my plain stable boy clothes and heard a lot more. The Emperor was calling for soldiers from every kingdom in the empire. I also heard rumors that it was because one of the kingdoms was rebelling against Imperial rule. What concerned me were the whispers about Duke Toffel and possibly others.

I finished all the chores and waited until dark. For a change business was slow and the Inn went dark shortly after it got dark. I slipped over the wall and started to make my way toward Duke Toffel’s. I was planning on a visit to his study for a look around. I had not gone far before I felt someone following, which was all it was just a feeling.

I moved into an alley and the darker shadows. I waited but whoever it was stayed back out of sight. In the next street I crossed and went down the block, looking back I only saw movement in the shadows. I tried to lose him several times but when I started towards the Duke’s he was always there. I drifted through the alleys and darker streets with a ghost of a shadow behind me.

I finally had enough and headed for Judgment square. I walked down the middle of the streets, no longer trying to hide or slip away. The shadow followed me as if he expected this. I waited in front of the Speaker’s Stand and he came out of the night as if he was my shadow. He was older, with grey hair and weapons as serviceable as my own. It was as if his face sang in my blood. I knew him even if I had never met him, />
He smiled faintly, “I thought you would play for awhile longer.”

I smiled, “I decided to get it over with.”

He nodded and took a breath, “You are like your mother.”

I took it as a complement but he shook his head, “We can not just execute nobles.”

I went still, “That is what we are charge to do if />
He shook his head, “It makes us look like judge and />
I kept watching him, “We are judge and executioner. We are the Empire’s honor and protectors from those within.”

He sighed and looked away, “Those are your mother’s views.”

I nodded, “Yes they are. They are also the vows each of us made to the gods.”

He looked at me sharply, “There are times when doing our duty in that way make it harder for all of />
I frowned, “You are talking about my mother and the Emperor’s son.”

He nodded his face set, “If she had just let the Emperor’s court handle it we would not have been hunted by his />
I snarled, “You know the plot was already in play. If she had waited he would have been />
He jerked as if struck, “Would that have been so bad?”

I growled, “Yes! He dishonored himself by killing the heir in the tournament. His plan to kill his father was another stain. Do you really think an Emperor that could do that would rule wisely?”

I had heard enough and held up my right hand with the silver ring shining bright as if it knew this moment would come. He stared at me and then my hand before raising his and placing it against mine. There was a bright flash and we were no longer standing in a dark square. We stood in a bright glow and we were not alone. Nine semi transparent and one solid figure stood around us in a circle.

I looked around at the men and women, “My brothers and sisters, our brother has said my mother acted wrongly in taking the Emperor’s son.”

There was a whispered murmur and the solid looking woman walked closer, “Elizabeth acted as a Peacemaker should. She did not have to challenge the noble brat, she should have just cut his heart out. Instead she made him speak his crime before all and then gave him a clean death.”

She looked from me to the other Peacemaker and disappeared. A huge looking man walked forward, he looked like he had been a blacksmith. He looked at the other Peacemaker, “Elizabeth did as a Peacemaker should. The Imperial family is Peacemaker />
He looked at me and something made him grin. He pulled off his ring and it flared with a life of its own. When it flared, I could hear someone screaming in agony. He held the ring out to me and my left hand came up automatically, “My honor is yours now />
He looked at the other peacemaker as his ring dropped into my open hand. As he slowly faded, his ring felt warm and some how right. An old woman walked to us grinning, “Our life is one of strife. Elizabeth acted as her honor and oath demanded. Our allegiance is not to a ruler, it is to the Empire. We hold it as our honor and our trust.”

She smiled and looked at her own hand as she pulled her ring off. At first it looked blackened and cracked. It flared and I looked at it as she held it out to me, it was bright and whole. She placed it gently in my hand, “My honor is yours now, guard it well.”

As the other had, she faded slowly away. A short brisk woman with long black hair walked to us. She bowed slightly, “It is a duty to protect the Empire even from one who would be Emperor. Elizabeth acted as a Peacemaker should.”

She looked into the other face, “You need to think of your own commitment />
She turned her head to me while pulling what looked like a piece of melted silver off her finger. It flared and she dropped her ring in my hand before covering it with her own. “My honor is yours, do not forget it.”

When she raised her hand she faded away. A short man walked to us. He looked even younger than me, “Your mother acted as our honor demanded that day. She was not the only Peacemaker there but she was the one chosen to protect the Empire.”

He pulled his ring off as he bowed, a scream echoed through the brightness and he grinned as he reached out to drop the ring in my hand, “I wanted to do that for a long time.”

He clasped my hand with the rings in it, “My honor is yours now, may you have better luck than I.”

The next to walk to us was a tall thin man with a long mustache. He only glanced at me before looking into the other eyes, “I was wrong. What happened to us was not Elizabeth’s fault, it was ours. You do not hide from back stabbing nobles. You face them and slap them in the face with it.”

He looked at me and jerked his ring off to a flare. He dropped the ring in my hands, “Bring honor back to it />
He faded away and a woman walked to us, she was short but very stocky, “Elizabeth was the best of us and she did what our honor />
She dropped her ring in my hand before looking at both of us, “Our honor is the Empire, if it fails so to will the Empire.”

She faded away and I turned slightly as a man our height was suddenly beside us. He looked at the other Peacemaker, “I was as you before the end, but Elizabeth was right in what she did. The Empire would have suffered long in the traitors hands.”

He pulled his ring off and only hesitated before setting it in my hand, “It deserved better than me. Bring its honor back />
He faded and only two spirits were left. The first, a young woman with long white hair walked to us. She pulled her ring off to a bright flash and another scream. She set it in my hand and kept her finger on it, while looking at both of us, must stand together. In your heart you both know this.”

She looked at me, “keep my honor safe />
She faded and we were left to watch a richly dressed man walk to us slowly. I knew this man, he was the Imperial Peacekeeper to the central kingdom and had been a distant cousin to the Emperor. He smiled at both of us, “Our time is coming once more and the Empire needs us and our justice. We are the guardians of both the high born and the low. We judge only on actions done to protect the Empire. Our honor is the honor of the Empire and judgment is ours to give.”

I felt his ring drop into my hand as it flared with a bright light. He looked at me, “I will not say my honor is yours because it is not my honor, it is the />
Unlike the others his form brightened until we could not look at him and then he was gone and we were standing back in the darkness of Judgment Square. I dropped my right hand and looked into my left. In the palm of my left hand were nine silvery rings, each with a different crest. I looked at the other Peacemaker and he was staring off into the distance.
I carefully put the rings into my belt pouch and he shook his head as if to clear it. He smiled wryly, “I was wrong. Good hunting />
He turned and walked into the shadows as two guards walked out of a street. They glanced at his back and then turned to look at me but I had drifted into darker shadows. They looked at each other and made a point of turning back into the street they had just come out of.

I drifted through the streets and alleys after that thinking and remembering what had happened. I slipped into the Inn courtyard and the stable to sit on a low stall fence. I was not surprised when Master Hoard walked in and looked at me. He leaned against the stall beside me and I do not know why but I pulled the other rings out and showed him. He took one look at the rings and smiled, “I hope you find a girl willing to have a lot of />
I looked at him startled as I realized what he meant. The ring of a Peacemaker is normally passed from parent to child.

Chapter twelve

Taking a Duke’s life

The next day rumors began spreading about the Emperor calling for troops. Within hours more rumors began of the king’s refusal. The rumors varied from the King rebelling against the Emperor to the kingdom being exempt because of trade agreements. Somehow I knew it all evolved Duke Toffel. By late afternoon everyone was talking about the King’s court being split.

I could not wait any longer and went to the stable to change. For the first time since I had been in this city I dressed in Peacemaker regalia. Everything from the twin short swords sticking up from the small of my back. To the star silver chain mail with my crest. Knives were in each leg sheath and slim white handled stilettos in both forearm sheath. Around my body were the slim throwing daggers were known for.

When I stepped into the common room everyone went quiet. Master Hoard looked at me and knelt. />
I nodded, “I have to go out.”

He bowed and I turned away and walked out. I knew what this would cause but I needed to end the rumors quickly before one of the nobles took it to far and I had to do something… drastic. I walked the streets making no attempt to hide. I walked straight for the Nobles gate in the Curtain wall. There were a dozen guards standing around when I approached the gate. They straightened and formed a wall blocking the gate. I stopped in front of a sergeant I knew well, />
He cleared his throat, “Imperial Peacemakers are not permitted past this point.”

I knew he was ignoring the Imperial kill order on all Peacemakers and smiled, “We go where justice demands. Move or face my />
He hesitated and then moved aside. The other guards cleared a path and I walked through the clear path and then through the gate. I kept going and the guards along the way only stopped to watch as I passed. I went straight to the King’s Keep. The guards pulled swords as I walked up and I shifted slightly, two spikes flashed out from my hands and made a solid sound as they sank into the wood by the head of each guard.

They jumped and dropped their sword as I walked closer. I pulled the two spikes out without speaking and continued into the Keep. The guards only stood aside as I made my way to the King’s chamber and stopped. I think they were shocked when I knocked. When the King called for me to enter, I opened the door and walked in. He was sitting beside the fireplace with his wife and she jumped up, />
I smiled as I came closer and grabbed a chair. He had stood slowly and faced me as I sat and looked at him. His wife came into his arms and he cleared his throat, />
I nodded my head, “Your majesty I need />
He looked away and finally nodded, “The rumors about me not sending troops to the />
I nodded and he sat, pulling his wife onto his lap almost absently. He held her against him and looked at me, “Duke Toffel and several others have a letter of intent. If I support the Emperor they will seek to replace me by using the Nobles court. They say I am not competent to rule if I am only the Emperor’s puppet.”

I sat back and looked towards the window, “The duke and every other noble know I am here. For some reason people believe a Peacemaker kills whenever they wish, without regard for evidence of truth.”

I looked back to the King, “It is your duty as the Emperor’s direct vassal to support him and the Empire.”

I looked from his wife back to him, “If Duke Toffel is interfering with the protection of the Empire than he is my />
I stood and turned to the door. Outside the guards were all gathered around the door and parted as I walked through them. My walk through the Noble retreat was meet with fear as many stood at their gates with guards. I ignored them and continued to the manor of Duke Toffel. At the gate to his manor stood a dozen large guards in his livery.

As I approached they moved to block the entrance. I stopped a few feet away from a huge man that was plainly the captain of his guards, “I have business here, move.”

The man laughed with his guards. He stepped closer, “Boy, there is nothing here for you. Run away before I teach />
I did not wait for him to finish or warn him. Both swords slipped into my hands and darted forward to slice through his inner thighs, cutting both arteries. He screamed and dropped to the ground as I shoved past him and headed straight into his guards. They were in shock and scrambled to pull weapons.

I was not waiting, they had made it clear that they were there to stop me. I slashed one guard’s throat and stabbed another in the neck. I blocked a hasty lunge and stabbed him under the arm before spinning to deflect a sword as it chopped down at me. As the guard twisted and tried to pull the sword back to block, I cut his throat and turned to the other guards as they suddenly backed away.

One by one they threw their weapons down and held empty hands out. I waved a sword out the gate and they were quick to rush out. I turned and knelt to wipe my swords clean before walking towards the large front doors. There were several people in the great hall and everyone backed away as I walked through them with drawn swords. The Duke had stood up with a pale face and wide eyes, “The Peacemakers are />
I did not even smile as I walked closer. My left sword only flick out and back when a guard suddenly stepped out. I continued while the guard grabbed his throat and dropped to his knees. The duke was backing up looking around for help when I stopped, “Send someone for the letter of intent.”

He jerked and then seemed to straighten, “Who do you think you />
I took a step closer, “I am Edward Fury, Imperial Peacemaker to this kingdom and I am here to make a />
His mouth opened and closed before he went to his knees. I held a hand up to stop the pleading, “Send for the letter of intent.”

He gulped and nodded before looking at an older man in a servants livery, “Bring me the metal box on my desk.”

It was several moments before the old man returned. I sheathed one of my swords and took the box while keeping my eyes on the old man. He released the box and I brought my other sword up as he lifted a dagger, “You can try.”

He stood frozen for a minute and then let the dagger drop, I nodded and he stepped back. I watched as he backed away and then opened the box without looking. I sheathed my sword and pulled the letter out. With only part of my attention, I read the letter. I finally looked up and into his face, “You think to break the Empire?”

He swallowed but did not say anything. My left hand sword swept out of its sheath and across his throat before he could even scream. I turned to the other nobles as he grabbed his throat trying to stop the spraying blood as his life leaked away, “The Empire will stand and you will stand with her or I will bury you as an enemy.”

I walked through the crowd and they hurriedly got out of my way. I stopped at the gate to clean my sword before heading to the Nobles gate. The letter had been very explicit about several wealth merchants. As I approached the gate several guard moved out to block my way. I was done being nice, they knew who and what I was. I pulled both swords before I even reached the gate.

A grey haired sergeant came out a small door and saw me. He looked at the guards and told them to stand aside. They hurriedly moved as I continued through the gate and out into the city. My first stop was a merchant that was a greedy miser. He lived a couple of blocks from the gate and had his own guards. When I banged on his gate the guard that answered was both arrogant and insulting.

I vaulted to the top of the gate and swung over drawing one of my swords as I dropped to the ground on the other side. The guard’s eyes were huge as he backed away quickly fumbling for the sword at his waist. I stepped forward and cut across the back of his hand. He yelped and quickly pulled his hand away from his sword. I pointed the sword at him, “You will remove the sword and never touch one again.”

He nodded hastily and unbuckled the belt to let it fall to the ground. He yanked the gate open and ran out into the street. I turned and walked into the manor, sheathing my sword as I went. The merchant was entertaining other merchants and they looked up as I walked through the door unannounced. My time in the city had been well spent and I recognized the merchant and started for him.

Another merchant moved to block my way while placing his hand on his dagger. My sword slipped into my hand and across his throat before his could do anything. I pushed him out of my way as several women screamed. />
I walked to the merchant and put my sword against his throat, “For treason against the empire I sentence you to />
His face was white as him straightened, /> I pushed the point in enough that a point of blood formed as he froze, “If you like, I can just hang your body in Judgment Square.”

Another well dressed merchant moved out of the crowd with a drawn sword, “Try me dog.”

I looked at him and pulled back to kick into the groan of the merchant I was here for. I turned as my other sword slipped into my hand, “This is not a wise course />
He moved closer and slid into a guard position. I waited and he finally slid closer and his sword flick out towards my right hand. I brought my sword out and then around as I turned and lunged. As his sword was thrown to the side he tripped and fell back and away from the point of my other blade. I waved the blade, “Stand up merchant, I will not kill you if you are lying on your back.”

His face went flush and he snarled as he rolled to his feet. He lunged suddenly before he was really close enough. I slapped the blade away and cut his arm with my other sword, “That is the only warning I will give you.”

His face was white but he moved into a stance and shifted as if to start circling. I moved sideways and into his path and he hesitated before lunging at my leading hand. I whirled the sword around throwing his sword wide as I stepped in and cut across with my other sword. He fell back trying to stop the spurting blood from his neck. I stepped away and turned to look at the merchant, “Leave or face a final />
He looked around but the rest of the merchants were white faced and would not meet his gaze. He finally backed away and turned to walk out the door. I looked around, “That is your only warning. Leave now and go home. The Empire will stand.”

I walked out stopping to wipe my sword at the door. I moved back into the street and the shadows. It was a long, slow walk back to the Inn.

Chapter thirteen

Wizards come to the City

The streets were alive with rumors the next morning. They had just started when another rumor made everyone forget. It was about a group of Mages that had entered the city. I went about the stables working and it was almost noon when the mage arrived. He walked into the courtyard and glanced from master Hoard to me. He had a little satisfied smile, “So it is true. A Peacemaker is here.”

I stood watching him carefully and let a throwing spike slip into my hand, “What do you want mage?”

He started to gesture and froze as I shifted, “Before you finish you will be dead.”

He looked at me and his eyes narrowed, “You think your weapon can break my shield?”

I smiled thinly, “A normal weapon, no. A spike forged with salt and />
His face whitened and then he straighten, “Do not interfere with us />
He turned to start walking out and Master Hoard stepped out of the doorway. As the mage started to gesture I threw the spike. It slammed into a wood post near his head and he spun to face me with wide eyes. I already had another spike in my hand, “Make no mistake mage. I am a Peacemaker. If you break the Imperial law or harm those I protect I will kill you.”

His face was white as he backed out of the stable yard. I finished the chores and went to my chest to dress. When I came out wearing the peacemaker uniform I crossed to the Inn. The kitchen was quiet as I walked through to the common room. As I walked into the large common room it fell silent. Master Hoard turned and bowed, “my lord?”

I smiled, “I will be back. Watch yourself and do not trust the mages.”

I looked around the room and then crossed and walked out. I walked towards Judgment square and knew who I would meet before I got there. I walked through the crowd toward the four brightly colored robes before the Speaker’s Stand. The crowd parted as they realized who I was and then silence swept the square. I faced the four mages standing together, />
He smiled, />
I only glanced at the others before looking at him, “I had a visit.”

He frowned and looked at one of the mages before looking at me, “Perhaps a bit early.”

I kept looking at him, “You swore an oath.”

He bowed, “I have kept my word.”

I glanced at the others, “And your… />
He shrugged, “They have not sworn an oath.”

I nodded, “Make your allegiances and your plans. When I have />
His eyes narrowed, “Still roaming the streets Edward?”

I smiled, “Only the shadows Patre.”

He looked at another mage, “Shadows have voices Edward.”

I grinned as I looked at the same mage, “When they speak to loud I will visit their master and quiet them.”

Patre looked at me again, “Do you really think you can stop the fall? There are only three of you left and the Emperor has declared you />
I smiled and let a throwing spike drop into my hand, “Our mandate goes beyond the Emperor or his actions. You could ask him why he could not remove our seal before his />
The mage at the end started a gesture and I spun after throwing the spike. I let two more spikes drop into my hands as I faced Patre. The two mages left standing with him were white faced as they looked at the one on the ground with my spike in his chest. I looked at Patre as he stood calmly, “The Empire will stand. Do not push to hard Patre. I do not want to kill my own uncle but I will.”

He bowed slightly, “I gave my sister my oath Edward.”

I look at the others and back to his face, “If you do not follow an oath in spirit than you have already broken it.”

I back up and at the last second turned to walk away. I walked through the streets heading towards the monastery for Blal. This was a small chapel very few people came to. I pushed the tall narrow doors open and walked in. I walked down the narrow isle as my footsteps echoed in the building. I stood before the alter and waited. A woman suddenly appeared, />
I bowed, />
She smiled, “The gods are restless. The charge they gave the Peacemakers is straining. Nobles, Merchants and Mages are trying their />
I grinned, “Patre is here and you know he works against the empire.”

She sighed, “He was my brother and now seeks to have his oath back. His plot is not here, he seeks only your death so he can be free.”

I nodded, “that is not something I did not know.”

She bowed her head, “I am sorry Edward. Watch the rich merchants and the poor nobles. He will seek to make them braver and try to get them to cooperate with each other.”
I nodded and then bowed, “Thank you mother.”

She smiled, “You accepted a heavy charge Edward. The woman of your heart draws near.”

I lifted my head to look at her in surprise, “Her name?”

Her laughter was like the sound of musical bells, “You will know when you meet her my son.”

I sighed and nodded before kneeling. When I looked up she was gone and in her place was an ancient crone. I smiled, “Thank you />
She smiled gently, “Thank the gods young />
I nodded and turned to leave. At the door I emptied my purse into the coin box before leaving. I was almost to the Inn when the four men attacked. I was aware of them before they even pulled their weapons and slid to the side and away from three of them as they closed. Both my swords swept out and my left sword blocked a swinging sword as the street quickly cleared.

I rolled the sword over the blade and threw it back as I kept moving. My right sword absently took the welders hand. I slipped my left sword back into its sheath as the other three men closed and with a sharp twist a throwing spike dropped into my hand from my sleeve. I moved around a thick wooden column to make two of the men move out of position.

My suddenly thrown spike flashed across the cobbled street to sink into the throat of a young looking mage that was gesturing. The closest man lunged and I parried his sword. I turned the blade inside of mine and cut his throat as I sliced back across his body. I moved back the way I had come and one of the two remaining men sliced across towards my hand.

I pulled my hand back letting his sword slid along mine before rolling my sword around his and tossing it down as my other hand pulled a knife. I pushed down and out with the sword and I cut across with the knife, cutting off several fingers holding his dagger as he thrust it at me. He screamed and fell back and it was just the one remaining attacker. He hesitated as I slid closer, “to late to run now.”

He swallowed and slashed at me wildly and followed it with a lunge. I knocked his dagger aside with my sword and shifted to the side to avoid his sword and let his body crash into mine. My knife slipped easily through his ribs and into his heart. I pushed him back and careful moved away. I walked across the street to the body of the mage and knelt. I removed my spike before cutting his throat.

I walked back to the Inn and went back to work in the stable. I slipped into my room and made a couple of preparations. I mucked stalls and curried horses while people came and went. It was during the evening rush that I felt the atmosphere change. It was in the voices in the common room of the Inn. I dressed and walked around and came in the front doors.

The room suddenly went silent and I noticed four ragged characters by the kitchen door where I would have normally come in. They looked sour and fingered their daggers as I looked around the room. Master Hoard looked upset and Mrs. Hoard was missing. I sat at a table and Ginger come over with a large mug and her pitcher of ale. I waved both away and she hesitated before nodding and heading for the kitchen door.

I saw the four men tense and let a throwing spike drop into my hand below the table. When they stood and one reached for Ginger, I stood and threw in one motion. The spike slammed into his shoulder as his hand grabbed Ginger’s shoulder. He screamed and let Ginger go to scurry into the kitchen.

I faced them as I pulled my knife and another spike. I did not even turn my head to the small cloaked figure sitting at a table in the corner, “When you try the spell, I will kill you.”

The men across the room stirred and looked at the cloaked figure. The small man carefully pulled the hood back, “You wish to challenge me?”

I smiled and turned, “I serve the Empire. If you wish to overthrow it to enthrall all the people, it will only be after all Peacemakers are dead. Now try your spell and take your chances or leave.”

His eyes narrowed, “Perhaps I will take this up later.”

I smiled and waited as he headed towards the door. The four men were quick to hurry across the room and leave behind him. I slid my knife back into its sheath and pulled another spike as I started across the room, “I would move away from the door.”

It was only a moment before there was a roar and a loud rushing sound. I waited until the crash against the door came and then threw a spike. The scream was one that chilled the blood and made even grown men cringe. My spike was imbedded in something we could not see by the front door. I grabbed a bowl of ground salt from a nearby table as it rushed across the room.

I whipped the bowl across in front of me and a cloud of salt seemed to hang suspended as I threw the other spike. The second scream was worse than the first as the demon hit the cloud of salt. I pulled my knife and a slim stiletto from my back. I sliced across the massive body as I rolled to the side. I came to my feet and spun as it embraced me.

The slim stiletto slid straight into where the heart would be and the demon froze. I dropped and did a back roll before coming to my feet. The demon lifted its head and howled a terrifying scream before disappearing. The scream that came from the street was purely human and one of never ending anguish.

I walked forward and knelt to pick up my stiletto and throwing spikes. I looked around and nodded to Master Hoard, “They will stay away now. The death place of a demon is not where a mage or another demon will go.”

He nodded and looked around the room before yelling into the kitchen, “Ale for everyone Ginger.”

I headed through the kitchen, passing Ginger and Teresa as they came into the common room with pitchers of ale. In the tack room I changed and used the basin of water. I dressed again and then moved up to the loft. I went out the back window and over the wall. I slipped through the street using alleys and back streets. The neighborhood I entered was one of privilege.

The merchants here were rich beyond imaging but thankfully most remained loyal to king and Empire. The estate I slipped into was one of the richest. I walked in the open and several guards started and moved to stop me only to be called off by a grizzled old man in worn comfortable clothes. I stopped in front of him and bowed, /> He grinned and looked around, “No one calls me that now />
I smiled, “And how many do you thrash soundly in the Salle?”

He laughed and turned towards the side door into the house, “Any that are silly enough to face me.”

I followed as he led me to a room off the kitchen where a richly dressed merchant sat. I nodded, “Merchant />
He grinned, “Only you call me that.”

I smiled and looked from the old Imperial Guard Captain to a once wandering peddler, “The mages will seek rich merchants to />
The peddler nodded, “They have already made />
I looked at him and he waved it away, “I never liked mages.”

I smiled, “How many are thinking about their offers?”

He pursed his lips, “Maybe merchant Taylor and />
I nodded, “Then I need to explain my />
He laughed with the captain, “Everyone knows your />
I smiled, “Try not to draw their />
They nodded and I slipped out. My first stop was the market in front of merchant Taylor’s shop. A mage was standing in the doorway and looked at me contemptibly. He gestured and I pulled a small handful of salt and tossed it as I pulled a spike. The cloud of salt sparkled and burst into fire. I threw the spike as the mage turned to face me fully. He staggered and then looked down at the spike in his chest, />
He went to his knees picking at the spike and then fell to the side. The street had quickly cleared and gone silent. Merchant Taylor appeared in his doorway and looked at me with wide eyes. I looked back calmly, “I protect the empire. If you betray it I will come for you.”

I turned and walked away heading for merchant Peterson’s warehouses. As soon as I entered the street I knew it was a trap. Months of moving through the city had taught me every nook and cranny. I turned and walked back to the next street and started down. I went through a slip through and then up the side of his warehouse. I entered the warehouse from a small window and silently moved along a catwalk.

I could hear voices from the front of the building and climbed down to carefully move through the stacked crates. As I drew near I recognized one voice as my uncle Patre. He was telling two other mages exactly what to do to trap and kill me. I stepped from behind a large crate and pulled two spikes and threw them. The two mages fell to the ground, one dead with a spike buried through the back of his skull and the other choking to death on his own blood.

Patre spun in surprise, his eyes wide, />
I looked back calmly as I drew my knife and another spike, “You are foresworn uncle.”

His face went white, “No… />
I started walking towards him, “By my blood I call you oath />
He gasped and spun as a bright glow appeared, “Elizabeth! I did not, I swear!”

The bright glowing form of a beautiful woman stepped out of the glow, “You are an oath breaker Patre. You were directing others and telling them how to kill my son. The price you gave in bond is called.”

My uncle went to his knees, “Please />
He began glowing and then his spectra stood and his body fell to the side. My mother looked at me before taking her brother’s hand and leading him into the bright glow. The glow shrank and then disappeared, leaving silence in its place. I slipped out a side door and made my way back to the inn. Uncle Patre had been the last of my family.

I went to the stables and changed. The quiet work with the horses soothed my soul. The rumors came quickly. The mages were fleeing the city.

Chapter fourteen

Breaking a conspiracy against the King

The next few weeks were filled with practicing with the city guards and listening to whispers in the night. I was in the shadows between buildings when I heard the first whispers of pledges against the emperor. This time I had one quietly talking about their meeting later that night. I slipped from shadow to shadow while following them. It was when they entered the Merchant guild’s counting house that I knew we had reached their destination.

I slipped through an upper floor window and moved to the railing. I could hear them below me talking about overthrowing the king. That was not strictly something I enforced but the stability of the empire rested on the kings that ruled the separate countries. The men below planned for everyone to meet in the nobles common in two days time with all their followers.

I waited and then slipped away and went back to the inn. I had two days to think about what to do. It was evening two nights later that I stood in the shadows. In the center of the commons the gathering was starting to form. It looked like more than fifty strong and I sighed as I pulled my swords and started across in the moonlight.

I was only a few steps away when they saw me. Two men attacked suddenly and that decided the rest. I blocked and slid sideways as I used my other sword to cut his throat. The other man tried to lunge but slipped. I parried his sword and took his hand at the elbow. The next three men were on me quickly. I moved sideways and parried two swords before stabbing one in the groin. I shifted and spun to block a man sneaking up behind me and sliced his belly open.

I moved past him and turned to block two swords before parrying and thrusting a sword into another man’s throat. I moved into him and thrust over his shoulder into another man’s eye. I shoved the falling body to the side into a man as I shifted and moved back. I blocked two swords and took one man’s hand at the wrist. I parried the other sword and sliced across his throat at the same time.

They knew if they ran I would just hunt them so they continued to attack. There were so many though that they got in each others way. I kept moving, sliding in smooth shifting patterns as I blocked and stabbed, parried and sliced. It was a long time before I was down to the last three men. They were different than the others. They moved in ways that told me they were skilled at working together.

I could see city guards with lanterns all around us, watching. The ground was littered with dead or crippled men. I slid across blocking one man’s attempt to circle behind me. I parried his sword and sliced at his wrist but he yanked it back. I shifted and side stepped as one of his partners lunged. It fell short and I stabbed with a sword and tore the tip out, ripping his arm open.

I blocked another sword and the slid in suddenly. The man was surprised and brought his dagger up but my other sword slid smoothly between his ribs. I slid past him as he folded to the ground and turned to face the last man standing. He was closing fast and lunged suddenly. I slapped the sword away and back stepped as he attempted to step in and stab me with his dagger.

He followed and I changed direction and stepped into him. I blocked both his sword and dagger before dropping a sword and striking him in the throat with my fist. He choked and gasped for breath that would never come as I moved back and away. I knelt and picked up my sword before looking around at the dead and wounded.

I knew what imperial law demanded and hated this part. I walked through the wounded and gave each one the emperor’s grace. When I walked away from the commons, fifty two men lay dead behind me. The guards that had surrounded the battle were silent as they moved out of my way. I headed to the monastery for Blal.

I dumped my pouch in the offering bowl before walking to the front and kneeling. I knelt and closed my eyes trying to calm my thoughts and spirit. A light hand went through my hair, “it had to be done.”

I sighed, “but did it really have to be me?”

The hint of a fresh breeze swept around me, “you made the judgement Edward, accept what it sometimes means.”

I put my head down, “it is one thing to kill while facing them over a blade but to take them when they are injured and />
There was a sigh of breath against my cheek, “settle your heart my child and then move on.”

I knew she was gone a moment later and sighed as I finally stood. I walked through the dark street to the guards practice yard. I stripped to my waist and began stretching before moving through my exercises. I was not surprised when Duke Godfree moved into the yard to watch. He moved forward and started stretching before facing me.

He struck and I blocked and tried to grab his hand but it wrapped around mine and turned and he kicked. I went with the kick and rolled before coming to my feet and slid to the side as I brushed his next kick away. I circled and moved in and struck with my fist and the Duke pushed it aside. I shifted as he struck and the blow slid aside.

I grabbed his wrist and twist and pulled and he rolled with it and came to his feet and turned to kick suddenly. I turned but it still caught me and I went back and down before rolling and coming to my feet. I moved closer and struck using a faint and shifted and to grab his wrist again. I applied pressure and twisted and his arm locked before he kicked.

I shifted and took a half step and it missed but he was using the kick to twist and turn. I released him before he snapped another kick. I brushed it up and slid closer the strike into his chest. He went down and rolled back ad over before coming back to his feet, “not bad.”

I moved in and we circled again before I moved to attack again. Our dance was both elegant and desperate. It was a couple of hours before the Duke stepped back. I glanced at the few guards sitting around us and the Duke nodded, “it is good for them to know you are human.”

The old Duke smiled, “feel better?”

I nodded, />
He turned to leave, “they were traitors Edward.”

I watched him leave before stretching and dressing. I walked back to the inn feeling tired but a little better. After washing in the horse trough and laid down and closed my eyes.

Chapter fifteen

Meeting a Wizard’s Apprentice

It had been a month since I had broken the conspiracy against the king. The whole city had been shocked when the whole truth behind my fight had come out. The king had even ordered the dead men hung from traitor’s wall. I had returned to my nightly stalking.

This night was a little colder than normal and most of the city stayed inside. I moved through the shadows easily until I reached the edge of the Curtain wall. I stopped as a young man stepped out of the shadows, he carried a tall staff and I knew he was a mage. I waited and he bowed, “My lord />
I nodded, />
He grinned, “Apprentice />
I smiled, “How may I help you?”

He looked around, “My master requests a moment of your time.”

I only looked at him, “I thought the rest of the mages left the city?”

He shook his head, “My master has always lived here.”

I was surprised because I had never suspected that a wizard live here. He smiled, “Will you come?”

I bowed slightly, “Lead the way.”

He turned and started walking while I followed along behind. The house he led me to was on the edge of the farmers market, it looked old but well kept. In the front parlor an old man sat in a comfortable seat and smoked a long stemmed pipe. The apprentice bowed and withdrew while the old man waved to another chair, “Sit />
I smiled and moved into the room and sat in the chair next to him, “How may I help you mage?”

He smiled thinly, “Do not trust mages do you.”

I waited and he nodded. His gesture and murmur towards the fire brought a flare of flames. Out of the flames appeared a stunning young woman. Even with the flames wrapped around her, I knew her hair would be a reddish gold color. Her eyes sparkled like emeralds as they stared into my soul.

I finally shook myself and looked at the mage as the image shifted and faded back into the fire. He looked at me quizzically and then smiled gently, “Her name is Kendra Alexandria Sarah Marie Brigham. She is the emperor’s ward and third in line for the throne.”

I nodded, “Where is she?”

He sighed, “Held captive outside the city in a Sorcerer’s /> I looked at him and my eyes narrowed, “The emperor would never />
The old mage held up his hand, “She was taken from the Imperial palace three days ago. The means used was one of treachery by a councilor to the />
I looked at him and my eyes narrowed, />
He shrugged, “it does not matter. His treachery earned him a quick death.”

I nodded and looked at the apprentice as he carried a tray into the room and set it on a small table. The old mage gestured to the scroll on the tray, “This will direct you to the Sorcerer’s Keep.”

I did not touch the scroll, I only glanced at it and looked back at the mage, “Why help me?”

He smiled and looked into the flames of his fire, “Lets just say I speak to the dead too.”

I nodded and reached for the scroll. I stood and looked at him but he never looked away from the fire. I walked out and after leaving his house carefully opened the scroll. I only needed one look to know where I needed to go before it flashed and disappeared. I headed for the eastern gate with long purposeful strides, the image of the young woman still burning in my mind. I slipped out the postern gate and walked through the shanty town outside the city walls.

The few shady people that saw my shadow hastily vanished. I quietly left the city behind, moving through moonlit fields. It was another hour before I saw the low wall that marked the estate boundary for the sorcerer. In the moonlight I could see moving shadows and knew the sorcerer had spells protecting his estate and Keep.

I should explain the difference between a wizard or mage and a sorcerer. A wizard or mage stores energy in an object like a wand or staff and uses it to create stronger spells. A sorcerer can not use an object so they either use only their own natural energy or they use energy from another person. Most sorcerers are not bad, however the ones that are, are very bad and take a person’s life energy by force, draining them completely and leaving a them dead or dying.

I waited as the shadows gathered near the wall and then swiftly vaulted the wall. Even as I landed the shadows were attacking. I knew their power was limited but dangerous. I had kept a small pouch of ground salt since the mages and pulled a handful to toss it in a wide arc. The silent screams as the shadows touched the salt vibrated in my bones as the salt broke the spells that held them together.

I moved quickly towards the distant Keep, knowing the disruption of the guard spells would alert the sorcerer. I slipped my climbing claws on after sprinkling salt on myself. When I reached the walls of the Keep I leaped and started climbing. I slipped over the wall and onto a walkway as a large altered dog rushed me. My swords swept out as I shifted and turned. The headed bounced past me as the body collapsed.

I did not bother with the stairs as I dropped over the wall on the inside. I walked towards the manor and kicked the large double door open. A young looking man spun to face me from the other end of the room, “YOU DARE!”

I did not even slow as I headed towards him, “For your acts of treason I sentence you to death.”
He looked around and made a pulling motion that pulled a bound man from a hanging curtain. I slipped a sword into its sheath as he mumbled a spell. I threw a cloud of salt as he gestured and it sparkled before bursting into flame. I drew a spike and threw it as he gestured again and he staggered back with it sticking out of his chest. I reached him as he plucked at the spike and looked at me with wide eyes, “But I can not die.”

My sword flashed and his head went back before his body started to fall. I moved forward and knelt before bringing the blade down again. It was always a good idea to remove the head of a sorcerer. I stood and looked around before starting to search. I had to be very careful because sorcerers tended to leave traps for the unwary. I moved up floor by floor until reaching the master suite.

When I sprinkled salt on the door it burst into flames and a huge stone man appeared. He reached for me and I turned and grabbed the hand before using the momentum to bring it stumbling around me and into the wall. I shifted my grip and pulled back before kicking into the closest knee. As it shattered and fell to the floor the spell unraveled and a scream echoed throughout the Keep.

I checked the door again and then opened it and looked inside. It looked like a magpie lived in the room. I hesitated and then tossed a pinch of salt. The flash had me stepping back and twisting as several knives flashed past me. I looked into the room again and then slipped in and began searching. I found bags of gems and pouches of gold but nothing to lead me to the young woman.

I went back downstairs and started searching again. I almost missed the hidden panel in the main hallway. It was two tiny scratches on the floor that drew my attention. After fifteen minute of careful searching I found the lock. Ten seconds latter the panel clicked and slowly swung open. I knew better than to just walk into any room the sorcerer had kept locked.

I went to the kitchen and found the bowl of salt he had used when cooking. Back at the panel, I pulled it open and looked down a steep stairwell. I tossed some salt and when nothing happened, I stepped in. I used pinches of salt all the way down the stairs. At the bottom a flare of color brought a stinking corpse to life. It slowly stood and turned from the side of the small ante room. Another pinches of salt caused it to burst into flames as it crumpled to the floor.

I slowly crossed to the door and checked it before opening it. I looked into a bare room with only a narrow cot in one corner and a chamber pot in another. Sitting on the cot was a young woman looking back at me. When my eyes locked with hers my heart started beating faster and I could not look away. She smiled, Peacemakers bolder?”

I grinned, “Unless they are overwhelmed with great beauty.”

I looked around and then carefully tossed several pinches of salt. She looked at me with her eyebrow raised and I shrugged, “Better safe the sorry.”

She lifted her arm and I saw the chain that was locked around her wrist. After crossing the room, I used another pinch of salt before picking the lock and tossing the chain away. I looked around slowly and stood, “Stay behind me. Walk where I walk and do whatever I say when I say it.”

She nodded and stood. I turned to the door and retraced my steps and she followed me. I glanced at her as I reached the door, “My name is Edward Fury by the way.”

She was silent as I led her up the stairs and out into the main hallway. She shifted as we approached the open front doors, “a Peacemaker named Fury killed the last emperor’s son.”

I glanced back, “Did they also tell you he was the one to arrange his own brother’s death? Or that he was planning to kill his father?”

She looked wide eyed and shook her head, />
I nodded and stopped in the doorway. I did not want to try the gateway through the walls. I sighed and started for the stairs up to the wall. Once I was on top of the wall I turned to look at Kendra, “I need you to climb onto my back and hold on.”

She looked at me and then down the wall as she realized what I was going to do. She nodded, her face white as she climbed on and used her thighs on my hips. I slipped my claws on after tossing salt down the wall. Just getting over the edge was the hard part. Climbing down was slow and tiring and I was glad when I reached the ground and stepped away from the wall.

Kendra dropped off my back, “I am glad that’s over. I do not like />
I smiled, “I would have never known.”

She looked at me and then grinned. It was just starting to get light as I turned to lead her back the way I had come. By the time we reached the shanty town, Kendra was staggering. I finally turned and just swept her into my arms and turned to the main gates. The guards looked surprised but only grinned as I walked by.

I made it to the inn and carried Kendra inside. I asked her to wait and did some chores while Ms Peace fed her. I finally saddled a horse and helped Kendra up before leading her towards the gate through the Curtain wall. The guards looked surprised and the sergeant cleared his throat, “I thought you were supposed to be teaching this />
I grinned, “I have an errand first.”

They did not even ask who Kendra was as they opened the gate and let us through. I led the horse through the Nobles retreat and servants began moving around. I stopped the horse at the gate to the Imperial Keep and banged on it. The guard that looked out angrily straightened when he saw me. I bowed slightly, “Inform the ambassador that the Emperor’s ward is here.”

His eyes snapped to Kendra and then widened before he jerked the gate wide open. I led the horse in as the guard sent a runner to the ambassador. It was only a couple of minutes before he appeared. I had helped a weary Kendra down off the horse and stood waiting. The ambassador flung the doors open as he rushed out. He knelt when he got closer, “Your imperial />
Kendra smiled, />
He stood and glanced at me and I nodded to her, “The ones responsible for taking her are dead. See that she is cared for.”

I turned and started for the gate feeling a tightening in my chest. I heard Kendra’s light steps, />
I stopped and turned to look at her. She smiled and came closer before kissing my cheek, “Thank you.”

I nodded as I looked into her eyes and then glanced at the ambassador before turning away.

Chapter sixteen

Teaching Knights to dance

The news of the Emperor’s Ward being in the city spread quickly. It was as if new life had arrived to breathe fresh hope into everyones life. Nobles and merchants alike planned grand balls and parties in her honor. The city Guard was becoming much better with my lessons helping them. It was two days after returning Kendra to the Ambassador that something happened.

I was in the marketplace with Teresa who was shopping. The disturbance from an entrance quickly spread and drew near. I held a staff in one hand and a large basket in the other as Teresa bargained with a farmer for chickens. Suddenly the crowd in the merchant row hastily scattered as three knights walked ahead of a lady and two more followed her.

I could see how stiff she was and the way she was frowning at the brutal treatment of the knights. As the knight in the lead reached me, he reached out to shove me aside. I swayed back and brought the end of the staff down on his foot. He yelled as he began to hop on one foot and the other two knights went for me. I swept back and forth, slamming the end other the staff against their shins.

They jerked back and went to one foot as the two knights in back moved forward. I thrust down into one’s foot and then swept across into the other’s shin as he yanked his dagger out. I shook my head, “courtesy />
The noblewoman was grinning as the knights fanned out. I sighed and took a step to the side to push Teresa into the merchant’s booth and set the basket down. I stepped out and one of the knights slid forward only to jump back and hop as my staff cracked against his shin. I smiled as they rushed me and then jerked back and shifted onto their other feet. I shook my head, “A knight must be ever courteous in all his />
I thrust down to hit another foot that was quickly jerked back. Things changed when they looked at each other and drew their swords. I shifted and changed my stance. The staff lashed out as they moved and slammed into one knight’s hand. His sword dropped from his numb hand as he jerked away. The butt of the staff lifted and shot out to strike another’s elbow and his sword spun away.

The three knights left lunged and my staff swept sideways knocking their swords away before spinning and one end crashing down on a wrist. The staff spun sideways and slammed into the forearm of another knight. His sword spun away over a merchant’s booth as I turned and back stepped away from another lunge. I brought the staff around and down against the wrist holding the last sword and it to dropped to the ground. I shook my head, “I am very disappointed />
They growled as they clutched at their daggers. I glanced past them at Duke Godfree who had walked up to stand beside the lady. The Duke cleared his throat and the knights glanced back before paling. The Duke nodded to me, “Perhaps you gentlemen would move this… display to a more suitable place.”

The knights stepped back unsure and I bowed to the Duke, “it is good to see you again sir.”

He nodded and looked at the Knights “why don’t you offer to take this to the guards practice yard? It is not that far away.”

They looked from me to the Duke and frowned before nodding. One looked at me, />
I sighed and looked at Teresa, “I am watching and protecting someone. Perhaps later.”

The knight growled and I shrugged as I looked passed him at the Duke, “I have lessons with the Guard tomorrow morning if they still feel the need for />
The knight started to step towards me and the Duke cleared his throat, “I am sure they would be glad to meet you then.”

The knights looked at him in surprise and I bowed, “Thank you for />
He nodded and held his arm out to the lady and turned to walk off. I looked at the knights as they looked around angrily and began picking up their swords. They left pushing people out of the way and the merchants started laughing. I picked up the basket as the merchant went back to bargaining with Teresa.

I did not realize how big a deal it was until I walked to the practice yard. The whole area was alive with merchants and nobles as well as almost all the off duty guards. I was wearing an old Peacemaker tunic as the Guard Captain stepped out grinning. He bowed, “I am acting as moderator. Do you wish to yield and apologize to his majesty’s />
I smiled slightly and raised an eyebrow, “I think not.”

He nodded and gestured to the open space. On the edge I saw the King, the Imperial Ambassador, Kendra, the Lady the knights had been leading and Duke Godfree. There were others in the surrounding crowd as I walked into the open space.

I bowed to the King and he nodded. I looked at the racks of weapons and selected a staff. The knights did not hesitate to grab swords and out of the corner of my eye I saw Godfree shake his head. I bowed to the knights, “Where was I? Oh yes. A knight is />
My staff swept sideways as a knight lunged and slammed into his forearm. His practice sword spun away as he jerked his arm back. I side stepped and spun the staff before letting it slide straight out to hit a knight in the stomach, “As I was saying. You gentlemen owe the merchants an apology for your rude />
I used a spin with the staff to block and throw a sword up before stepping in and bringing one end down on an exposed foot. He jerked and hopped back as I moved the other way and lashed out to knock a sword from a knight’s hands and slash down to hit his foot. He yelled and jumped back as I spun and blocked a lunge. I twisted the staff and jabbed out and down into an exposed shin and the knight was hopping back. I shook my head, “I knight must be />
I swept the staff back and forth blocking two knights swords before dropping the end and jabbing into a foot before it could be pulled back. I circled as the two knights returned with their dropped swords, “Most importantly, a knight needs respect for an unknown foe.”

The staff started towards one knight only to suddenly slide back in the other direction as that knight tried to attack. The staff dropped to strike him in the thigh and he jerked and pulled back limping. I spun the staff to block two swords and then brought one end down on a shoulder. The knight dropped his sword and stumbled back. I swept the staff sideways to slam the end into the side of a knight’s head before pulling it back and spinning it to knock another sword away.

I brought the other end around and it shot down to hit a foot before I turned and brought it around. The knight that had lunged was off balance as the staff suddenly hit his side knocking him to the ground. I spun and let the staff jab straight out at a lunging knight. He tried to block and fumbled as the staff shot into his stomach knocking the breath from him.

I turned and circled the two knights still willing to step up. They were both wary as I smiled, “Most importantly, a knight must appear to the ladies to be gentle and kind.”

They glanced at each other as I waited for them to move. They finally stepped back and bowed before looking at the Guard Captain, “We yield.”

He grinned and walked into the open space, “My lord Fury you are the winner.”

I bowed slightly, “The lesson was on weapons and />
I looked at the five embarrassed knights, “Because you know how to use a weapon do not assume that makes you better than the man holding what appears to be something else. In the right hands anything can be used with skill.”

I bowed the Duke Godfree, “My mother’s teacher taught her that with a simple hay fork.”

I looked at the knights, “remember this and learn from it. My mother was a Peacemaker and her teacher showed her something she did not know. Do not think of being embarrassed. Learn from this and become better.”

I bowed to the king and hesitated before bowing to Kendra. I turned to leave and handed the staff to the Guard Captain.

Chapter seventeen

Facing Assassins

It was over a week before Kendra appeared at the inn. The rumors ran wild about her appearance with me. Just the day before, a column of Imperial guards rode through the city and whispers said an Emperor’s Voice rode with them. An Emperor’s Voice was a type of mage that could speak with the Emperor’s voice and what he witnessed could be seen by the Emperor.

I was returning from bringing wood into the kitchen when Kendra appeared. I ignored the guards around her and the richly dressed man as she smiled a radiant smile and bowed, “You look much better.”

She grinned as she stepped closer and held her hand out, “Since you have not come to check on me I decided to come to you.”

I smiled as I took her hand and kissed the back before releasing it, “How can I help you?”

She looked at the richly dressed man, “This is lord />
I nodded, “The Emperor’s Voice.”

He bowed, “The Emperor listened to his wards story and wanted to thank you.”

I sighed, “You can tell his majesty that I />
He held up his hand, “The Emperor is listening. He said to tell you that the Imperial warrant on Peacemakers has been />
I smiled, “Does that mean he finally believes what we told him about his />
He tilted his head as if listening and nodded, “His majesty said it did not matter.”

I sighed, “It matters, his brother arraigned his older brother’s death and was going to try to kill his father. Peacemakers are guided by the gods of the Empire and bow only to them. My mother did what she had to so that the Empire would remain standing as the gods intended. If his brother had been innocent my mother would not have acted.”

I looked at Kendra and sighed, “I do not serve the Emperor, I serve the Empire.”

She smiled, “Sometimes it is the same thing.”

I nodded, “Most of the time it is.”

The Voice cleared his throat, “His majesty said he will think on your words.”

I bowed slightly before looking at Kendra again, “Have you had a chance to look around the city?”

She nodded, “I asked his majesty if I might spend a little time here.”
I liked the way she looked this morning and gestured to the inn, “Would you like something from the inn?”

She smiled and stepped forward to put her arm through mine, “That would be nice.”

I nodded to the Emperor’s Voice and turned to lead Kendra into the inn. Ms Peace looked up when we came in and looked surprised. I smiled, “Would you make a cup of tea for Miss />
She smiled, “Of course.”

When we came through the doors into the common room I knew there was trouble. There were a few of the Imperial guards just inside the door but a man sitting alone at a table stood out. I moved Kendra behind me as I looked at him. He smiled slightly and stood to leave. I watched until he left and then turned to sit Kendra at a table. She glance towards the door, “Who was that you were protecting me from?”

I sat beside her, “An />
She looked startled and looked at the guards. I shook my head, “It was a />
She looked at me again as the kitchen doors opened and Ginger came out with a cup of tea. I sat and watched her sip tea and talk quietly. Surprisingly she talked about styles of fighting and the ways they could be countered. She was almost animate about it and I finally stopped her with a smile, “I better return you to the ambassador before he comes />
She actually blushed and then laughed as she stood. I glanced at master Hoard as we headed towards the door and he smiled and bowed slightly. I nodded and led Kendra out with her guards falling in around us. We walked back through the city talking about this or that. She asked when I was going to be back at the guards practice yard and said she might come by to watch. When we reached the Keep she turned to face me, “Thank you Edward.”

I bowed and watched her enter before turning back. This time I noticed the assassins as I started for the gate through the Curtain wall. They moved with purpose and I noticed they were not junior masters. I had just passed through the Curtain wall when the first moved. I side stepped a dart and moved down an alley. I was half way down when two moved out of the shadows.

I pulled knives and moved into them, blocking a thrust from one and back stepping to avoid another poisoned dart. I twisted and stabbed through the wrist of the assassin attacking me. I twisted my knife as he screamed and slid in front of him as my other knife sliced across his throat. I spun, using his body as a shield and shoved. I moved after him as the other assassin slid sideways smoothly.

He pulled a short sword and a dagger and lunged. I do not think it was supposed to be a real attack but it brought the hand with the sword close enough. Like with the other assassin, I turned sideways and stabbed through his wrist. This time I yanked straight back towards me and he screamed as he stumbled forward. My other knife stabbed up under the ear and twisted before I was pulling it free.

I glanced back the way I had come and turned the other way as four more assassins darkened the other entrance. I started for the other end and watched three assassins walk in. I spun and squeezed between two walls and into a tiny alcove. I waited and suddenly one slipped into the alcove with me. He lunged and I brushed the blade aside as another assassin slipped in to join us.

I stabbed low and he blocked before realizing it was a false strike. My knife sliced through his throat before I blocked the other assassin’s blade. I lunged and let him block my knife as my other knife dropped lower and stabbed through his inner thigh and the artery. He staggered back, his face pale as his hand dropped to the gushing wound.

Another assassin slid through and his wrist flicked, I slashed across with my knife, knocking the dart away before closing with the new threat. He slid in and slashed towards my face. I stabbed up into his wrist with my knife as he lunged with a dagger in his other hand. He froze as I twisted and ripped the knife out before brushing his other dagger aside to stab straight up under his chin.

He fell away as yet another assassin slipped into the alcove with two more following. I flipped my knife and threw it, hitting the assassin in the throat. I moved closer to the opening and stabbed through a hand that struck at me with a dagger. I twitched my hand and yanked back before lunging to put the blade through the assassin’s eye. I knelt as the dead assassin fell back into the one behind him. I pulled my knife out of the other dead assassin’s throat before standing.

They pulled back and I had an idea what was coming next. I crossed to the other side of the alcove and drew out a black neck cloth. It covered my mouth and nose while leaving my eyes uncovered. A moment later a sphere seemed to float through the opening and drop to the ground. It broke open and began burning. I moved back and managed to catch the next two as they were thrown in. I do not think they expected their own poisons to be used against them. I tossed the two spheres I had caught back out into the alley and heard swearing and running feet.

I did not even pause and moved back out into the alley and headed towards one end. I wiped my knives and sheathed them before pulling my swords. I swiped one across in front of me to brush a dart aside but did not even slow down as three assassins moved to block me. I blocked a lunge and sliced across his throat with my other sword. I spun to block another lunging blade and cut down with my other sword to take the whole hand. I brought a sword up to block a cut at my head and stabbed through the assassin’s chest with the other.

I let the three men fall and continued to walk away. I was headed for the old assassins guildhall. I brushed two thrown darts aside with my swords as two more assassins appeared. They hesitated before coming for me. I was done avoiding them and turned to walk into them.

I slapped a sword thrust away as I sidestepped and stabbed into his inner thigh and ripped his artery apart. The other assassin lunged and then stabbed with a dagger as my sword swept his aside. My other sword easily blocked his dagger before I thrust into his chest. I let them fall as I started off again Three more assassin came running around the next corner and slowed before one threw a dart I brushed aside with a bloody sword.

The city guard and everyone else must have felt the danger because no one else was out but the assassins and me. I continued towards the three assassins without slowing. Another threw a dart I knocked away and then I was within sword reach I blocked a cut and danced sideways and ripped open one assassin’s gut with a sword point. I brushed a lunge aside and cut straight up under his arm to sever the artery. The last assassin pulled a second short sword and lunged.

I parried and his other sword stabbing towards my wrist. My left hand sword brushed it away and the right stabbed into his eye. I jerked it out and started walking again. I was almost to the old guild house when four assassins rushed me from a silent doorway. I moved into them as they tried to spread out. I blocked a sword into his partner’s before using a back handed slice that took out a throat.

The spray of blood splashed into the faces of two of them, blinding them. I moved swiftly, stabbing one through the neck and ripping it out while gutting the other. I turned to face the last assassin and he struck. I twisted and managed to brush his sword away before slapping the following dagger down. I stabbed forward with that sword and sliced through his inner thigh.

I slid back as he jerked and shifted to stand on his other leg. I shook my head and absently slapped his sword away. I waited a moment and he grunted as he slowly went to his knees. I walked away as he slumped down further. The two assassins that stood in the center of the street waiting for me were much different than the others. These were guildmasters, very high quality assassins.

I think they expected me to stop and talk. When I reached them my left sword struck out and sliced across one’s throat before my other sword stabbed into the second man’s chest. They were both surprised and it was to late for them to do anything except die. I watched their convulsing bodies in the street before turning to look back down the street at the assassins that slowly gathered, “Leave this city and do not return.”

They slowly turned and walked away.

Chapter eighteen

A visit to the dragon’s lair

Over the next month Kendra visited often and I knew she was the one I wanted to share my life with. It was a foggy evening when the Imperial Ambassador came to the inn. I had finished all the chores and relaxed just inside the stables. I was cleaning weapons and sharpening them when he came out the back door and crossed to stand in the doorway. He watched me for a moment and then cleared his throat, “My lord />
I guess I knew he would come or the Emperor’s Voice, “Yes my lord?”

He smiled and came closer, taking a deep breath, “My lord Peacemaker, the Emperor’s ward is destined to marry one of title. Your… relationship must end.”

I looked at him and then back at the knife I was sharpening, “Does Kendra know?”

He sighed, />
I wiped the knife clean and looked at the Ambassador, “May I speak with her?”

He frowned but nodded, “You can tell her.”

I stood and carefully replaced all my weapons. I nodded to the Ambassador and walked out. I think the darkness in my heart frightened people because they went out of their way to avoid me. The guards at the Curtain wall quickly moved aside without challenging me. When I arrived at the Keep, the guards moved out of my way. I knocked on Kendra’s door and waited even after she called for me to enter. She pulled the door open with a frown and started, />
I smiled slightly, “Walk with me?”

She hesitated and then came out, “What is wrong?”

I took her hand absently as I headed down the hall, “I have been asked to not see you anymore. I was reminded that you are destined to marry someone with noble blood.”

Kendra looked at me and sighed, “I know. I have always known, it is just that… since I met you I />
She went quiet as we turned and walked back down the hall. I did not want to leave, to let her hand go. Kendra finally stopped and looked at me as she bit her lip, “Do you love me Edward?”

I smiled, “We can not run away Kendra.”

She slashed the air, “Do you love me?”

I caressed her face, />
Kendra took a breath, “There might be a way. This kingdom has an Imperial Dragon’s lair.”

I looked at her, “No one comes out of a Dragon’s lair.”

Kendra grinned, “That is because a Peacemaker has never tried it.”

I thought about it, “A Dragon’s lair dates back to before />
She nodded, “You are very good Edward. Just take your time and pay />
I thought about what she was asking. Risking myself for something beyond my sworn duty… I looked into Kendra’s eyes and finally nodded, “Very well.”

She kissed me, something she had never done. It was like breathing in light or smelling sound. Kendra seemed to fill my senses like no one and nothing before. When she pulled back slowly her eyes were wide. I finally turned and walked away. The Dragon’s Lair was created by a mage council when the empire was first born. It was always beyond the Keep of king or empire, located where the common man could find it.

In this case the Dragon’s lair in this kingdom was located in the center of the city commons. A large park like area set aside for travelers and fairs. I do not remember my steps as I walked away from Kendra. I remember standing on the flagstones before the wide stairway leading down into the lair. I sank to my knees and bowed, waiting.

The lair can only be entered during the first mark when the sun rises. People seemed to know and slowly began to gather. When the sun began to rise, I stood and took a breath before walking through the wide arch and started down the stairs. The stone wall before me seemed to melt into vapor as I approached. I walked through and it became solid behind me as I stopped walking. I knew a huge magical sphere was showing everything I did.

I carefully looked down the sloping hall and noticed the way the floor stones were positioned. I stepped forward and began a strange dance of tiny steps and leaps and large side steps. I was halfway down the hall when the stones changed. I stopped to look as a wall of flames exploded behind me. I concentrated on the floor in front of me before turning to the right hand wall.

The wall of flame behind me was still moving closer as I leaped. My fingers gripped the tiny ledge and my toes landed on another. I began moving down the hall using just my fingers and toes on the tiny ledges. I was almost to an intersection and the wall of flames was much closer when I stopped. I looked at the slightly raised ledge next to my fingers and glanced back and down.

I leaped back to land on a single tile before turning carefully to face the other side of the hall. I leaped and landed on the small ledges and started moving quickly. When I reached the intersection I jumped to the side and landed in the intersection as the wall of flame just died. I looked at the three hallways thinking quickly since I knew if I waited to long something bad would happen.

I turned to the left or the sinister hallway. Like the last hallway this one slanted down. It had silver bars below the ceiling that ran parallel to each other down the hall. I jumped and grabbed both bars and started down the hall. I slid each hand down the bars keeping constant contact. The floor was suddenly replaced with something that bubbled and seemed to boil, it also gave off a foul odor.

A quarter of the way down the hall spears began stabbing out of the walls in a seemingly random pattern. I took a moment to watch and then shifted to the bar on the right and move a few feet before moving over to the left. I went back and forth as I continued. I was also watching the bars. Halfway down the hall I dropped onto the floor.

I landed on a single tile using just one foot. I did not pause and hopped to the side to land on my other foot. Jets of seemly liquid fire began shooting down onto the floor and I began a dance of springing from one tile to another. A little later the dance changed as spikes began appearing at random. I went from hopping on tiles to a sideways leap to the wall where I stepped and jumped back to grab a bar on the ceiling. I swung to the other bar and swung again to the far wall where I again pushed off. This time to land on a tile painted like a dragon.

The wild dance continued all the way to the next intersection. I moved to the center as four huge men appeared in each of the hallways and rushed at me. I shifted sideways pulling swords and blocking and then stabbing up under a chin. I spun forward and around his falling body before slapping a short sword from another man away and stabbing under the extended arm and into his heart.

I spun to block a lunging sword and slice across the man’s throat. I sidestepped the last man’s rush and stabbed into his neck and up into his head as he went past me. I looked around and knelt to quickly wipe my weapons clean before looking at four identical hallways. Someone that did not know better would not have been able to tell which they had come out of.

The bodies of the four dead men began sinking into the floor as I walked towards the next sinister hallway. I took a brief moment before slowly walking down one side. The hall seemed to shift and suddenly it seemed as if I was walking on the wall. The huge serpent that appeared, hissed as it began to coil. I knew that if I took even one step back it would kill me.

I stepped towards the serpent as I pulled my knives. I shifted and turned my body sideways as it suddenly struck. I stabbed through the back of the skull and continued past the body ignoring the vertigo that swept over me as I was suddenly walking on the ceiling and the body of the serpent was falling to the floor above me. I glanced at the hall and jumped to the other side before continuing. This time it was a huge scorpion that appeared in front of me.

I turned sideways as the sting flashed towards me and sliced down. I faced the screaming scorpion and lunged forward, one knife slipping into its sheath and the other sliding into the head. The scorpion’s claws were closing as I flipped up and yanked the knife out. I rolled across the scorpion’s back and dropped to the hallway floor, well, ceiling.

I jumped back to the other side of the hall just before it rolled again. I was back to walking on what seemed like the wall as I moved towards the other end. I shifted to the center of the hallway and jumped. I grabbed the silver bar that seemed to protrude from the wall and started moving hand over hand. A spider appeared and as I moved closer it grew larger.

As the spider rushed at me, I let one hand go. I was hanging from one hand as I pulled a spike and threw. The spider screamed and writhed around as the spike struck its head. I continued moving as the spider flailed. I swung over it and dropped to the other wall before stepping into the next intersection. Everything righted itself as I walked to the center of the intersection.

I was not surprised at the six men that appeared. This time four were carrying short swords that seemed to glow as if straight from a forge, the other two held throwing daggers. I shifted sideways and bent backwards as two daggers flashed by me for each man. I pulled both swords and moved forward into one of the men, blocking his sword and slicing his throat with the other.

I moved sideways and turned, slapping a dagger away and blocking a man’s lunge. I parried and lunged into him and held him as I turned. A dagger hit his back as I released him to block a sword and kneel suddenly. I stabbing into one man as a dagger went past my head to strike the last man with a sword in the chest. I spun and rolled before coming to my feet and brushing a dagger out of the air.

I blocked the stabbing dagger, shifted sideway and turning to bend backwards. Another dagger went past me and struck the man in the shoulder. I lashed out and ripped the point of my sword through his throat before turning to walk towards the last man. I slapped two more daggers away before I reached him. He fainted a lunge with a dagger and then tried to stab down into my hand. One sword took the hand and the other stabbed through his eye.

I turned to look at the hallways as the room turned and then showed four new hallways. I quickly glanced at each and started for the one with a Sheppard’s staff engraved above it. I saw the other three and thought they were meant to draw someone. As I stepped into the hallway it began to rock and shake. I shifted my balance but kept going.

Halfway down arrows began shooting towards me. I used my swords to brush them aside. A few steps later a large lion lunged at me from out of thin air. I shifted and hopped sideways as one sword stabbed through the neck of the passing lion and the other slapped an arrow away. I had almost reached the end of the hallway when the huge crocodile surged out of the floor in front of me.

I dove forward, one sword stabbing down and through the spine behind the head and the other spinning to protect me from a last arrow. I moved out of the hallway and into the fourth intersection. As I moved towards the center and looked around, eight men with long swords appeared. I did not hesitate and moved towards one, attacking him.

I lunged and let my other sword move his aside. He grunted in surprise when my sword tip slammed through his leather chest armor. I continued into him and then around as the two closest men attacked. I shoved his falling body into one and knocked the others sword up as I stabbed through his thigh cutting the artery. I turned him and shoved before shifting sideways.

I blocked two lunging swords and took the hand of one man before moving sideways suddenly and slicing the tendon behind a knee. I brushed a sword away before stabbing through the forearm of another man lunging towards me. My other swords blocked his as I twisted. He stumbled sideways into another man’s lunge and gasped as his sword went into his stomach.

I struck over his shoulder and into the man’s throat behind him before turning and pushing the dying man. I sliced open the arm of another man lunging at me and followed it with a strike through his eye. I spun and blocked a sword stabbing towards my back and stabbed him in the gut before side stepping away. The last man standing circled me and fainted.

I brushed his sword aside before cutting the throat of the wounded man. When I did the last man moved, lunging into me. I deflected his sword and slammed the hilt of my other sword into his throat. He staggered back choking and my sword took him behind an ear. I looked at the bodies before kneeling to wipe my swords clean. I stood and looked at each hallway before walking towards the one with a symbol for Water on the arch, each of the others had Earth, Air and Fire.

I had barely stepped into the hallway when water began pouring in. Instead of jumping towards the bar on the ceiling I began wading through the water. I put one sword away and watched the water in front of me. I stabbed a small flesh eating fish as it surged towards my shins. I stabbed several more but kept moving. I was over halfway when the water reached my thighs. The larger fish that struck at me were like pike, long and thin.

As I approached the end the water reached my hips and a huge monster appeared. It had a large triangle fin that sliced through the water. This time I used my other hand as it rolled to push away from its nose as I stabbed my sword through the spine behind its huge head. I was shoved sideways and back and before I knew it the water was to my shoulders. I took a breath and dove under the water and began swimming. I ignored anything behind me as I reached ahead of me to slice the nose of another monster and then I was dropping to the floor of the next intersection.

I rolled forward and came to my feet with both swords in my hands as men rushed me from all sides. I blocked and spun, stabbed and sliced. My dance slowly moved me around the intersection as the men died and were replaced as if from an endless supply. I finally laughed and let the pattern take me, block, stab, sidestep, slice, shift, block, lunge… As suddenly as it started it was over. The entire floor was littered with dead that slowly seemed to sink into the floor.

I quickly looked at the six hallways and started for the one with building blocks on the arch. As soon as I stepped inside the hallway it shifted and a fog seeped up to cover the floor. I did not even pause as a huge spike dropped from the ceiling and went through the floor. There was a roar as I sidestepped and a spout of flame shot out from where the spike entered the floor.

Spikes, arrows, blocks of stone, they dropped from the ceiling or shot through the walls or sprang up from the floor. They were always followed by flame or streams of acid. I walked down the hall shifting back and forth as I went. The further down the hall I went the faster they came. By the time I reached the end of the hall I was running and dancing. At the very end I spun and slid sideways and then did a back flip into the intersection.

I pulled my swords as a huge Hydra appeared and one head snapped forward. I stabbed up and sliced across at another head before rushing the monster. It tried to strike at me but I was to close and it could not back up fast enough. I stabbed straight into the thick skinned chest and the heads jerked and whipped around as they screamed. I spun to stab a head that came close before rolling forward and spinning at the roar from behind me.

Over the dead body of the hydra leaped a huge Manticore. Its stinger was rising up behind it and both front paws were stretched out reaching for me. I dove forward under it and rolled to my feet swinging back with one sword to slice the stinger off. I turned with the other sword as the Manticore roared in rage and pain. It was spinning towards me and I lunged forward to stab through its side and into the heart.

I ripped my sword free and moved back as it staggered around and went to its knees. The beat of wings above and behind me had me dropping and rolling before coming to my feet to face a large Griffin. Its large taloned feet were reaching for me. I stabbed a sword into one clawed foot and moved sideways as it screamed and landed. It lunged and I sliced across its throat hard in a spray of blood.

The head almost came off as it staggered and fell. I spun as I heard a slithering sound behind me and then moved backwards in a weaving pattern as a large Drake seemed to stalk out of a tunnel towards me. Suddenly its snake like head flashed out towards me. I turned sideways and stabbed up into the tough hide of the neck and throat.

The Drake yanked its head back and I almost lost my sword. I lunged towards the screaming hissing monster and stabbed in front of the front shoulder and up into the neck. The sword hit something it grated on as I pulled it out and spun to use a back handed slice at the head whipping towards me. The drake collapsed and spasmed and I knelt to quicky stab through an ear hole to kill it.

I stood and turned at the roar of a bull and jumped to the side as a Minotaur charged me. I spun and ducked under a huge axe and lunged in to stab into the inner thigh as the axe passed over me. I dove to one side and rolled to my feet as the beast roared again and stalked after me. I fainted and then sliced through its wrist as the monster stabbed at me with the axe. It roared and fumbled as it switched the axe to its other hand. Suddenly it swayed and then it went to its knees. I moved around it and lunged in to stab into the neck and rip the blade out the throat.

As it fell I was spinning to look around and saw the huge three headed dog as it leaped over the other bodies. I sliced out and then stabbed as the left head lunged towards me. My sword went through the left eye and into the brain before being yanked out of my hand. I did not pause and stabbed into the open mouth of the middle head and shifted aside as it to was pulled away.

I pulled a knife as the two heads dragged along the floor and the last growled. The dog stalked towards me and suddenly lunged. I went straight back and plunged the knife up under the jaws as I fell. I rolled as I yanked the knife out and came to my feet to see the dog jerking on the ground. I moved quickly to put my knife away and yank out my swords.

I turned around to look at each hall and saw the symbol for a dragon over one. I walked towards it as the bodies sank into the floor. I hesitated and then stepped in and began to walk slowly as my eyes checked everything. This time there were no traps or attacking beasts. When I walked into the huge chamber at the end of the hall I knew why.

A huge black dragon lay curled up in the middle of the floor. I knew my heart was beating fast as the dragon uncurled and stood to face me. I had nothing that could stab through the scales let alone reach something vital. I moved forward as the dragon seemed to breath in. When it suddenly thrust its head forward and opened its huge mouth to breath fire, I dove.

I dove straight into its mouth and rolled to my knee as it jerked back and snapped its jaws closed. I thrust both swords straight up as its great jaws started coming together. I was slammed down even as both swords slid up through the roof of the dragon’s mouth. The dragon roar as its jaws opened and I spun to leap out leaving both swords imbedded to their hilt in its mouth. I drew a knife and backed away as the dragon started thrashing around as it dropped to the floor.

It was a long time before it was still. Slowly it sank into the floor leaving my swords behind. I moved forward and picked them up before wiping them off and sheathing them. I walked to the distant pile of treasure and stopped at the edge and knelt. I waited and finally a shade appeared and stood before me, “Bravely done son of the empire.”

It looked at the treasure, “This is not the treasure you seek.”

I smiled and shook my head. He frowned and looked up for several minutes before smiling, “Rise Empire’s son. What you desire awaits above.”

I stood as it turned and motioned to a door that had appeared. I bowed, “Thank you sire.”

It faded as I began walking and when I went through the doorway I stepped out onto the flagstones before the lair. Kendra rushed out of the huge, gathered crowd and into my arms. The Emperor’s Voice followed slower and stopped a few feet away with the king beside him, “Well done Peacemaker. On this day you have done what none thought possible. I give to you two things, I adopt you as a son and I give my ward to you in />
Chapter nineteen

Imperial son

There were murmurs from the crowd and cheers. I glanced into the crowd as I saw others moving and shifting people aside. One look screamed soldiers but they wore regular clothes. I looked around and frowned as I saw nobles that should not have been here. I shifted and moved Kendra behind me as I reached out for the Emperor’s voice, “Move behind me.”

He turned but moved back as I told him. The king turned and straightened as the soldiers began drawing weapons, “What is the meaning of this!”

I reached for his shoulder and pulled him back as he drew a sword, “They are here for me.”

A noble laughed, “conceited Peacemaker. We are here for all of you.”

I smiled and my hand flicked towards him and he choked as suddenly there was a spike buried in his throat. I moved forward as the crowd backed away to leave the nobles and soldiers. I threw another spike that took another noble in his groin and pulled both swords as the soldiers rushed. I blocked a lunging sword as my other sword stabbed the man’s wrist.

I twisted as he screamed and ripped the arm apart. I blocked another lunging sword and used the bloody sword to take a man’s hand. I moved to the side to block a soldier trying to get around me and fainted before slicing his belly open with the other sword. I shifted back as two men rushed and blocked both. The king’s long sword stabbed over my left shoulder and past my arm to tear out a nobles throat.

I parried the other man’s sword and then stabbed him in the throat. I turned and stepped back as a noble lunged with a long sword. Before I could take him the king’s sword swept down to take the arm off. I slid into the group of soldiers following him and stabbed one in the groin while slicing another’s throat. I blocked a sword and stabbed under the man’s arm with my other sword.

I shifted back and to the side to stop a noble and a soldier as they tried to move around me. The king’s long sword stabbed past me again and into the nobles arm as he swung his sword. I cut his throat as I blocked the soldier’s descending blade. A slim throwing spike appeared in his throat and he fell back. I moved forward towards the other soldiers and nobles as they hesitated.

I swept a noble’s sword aside and slashed a soldier’s arm open. That made them jerk back and I followed to block the noble’s blade as I moved to the other side and into the soldiers. The king shifted sideways to lunge and stab past me and into the nobles throat. Before I could say anything he moved back and I was blocking two soldiers swords.

I ripped one man’s arm open before blocking another sword. He staggered back with another slim spike in his throat. Two more men took their place but I had moved forward and they were not ready. I sliced open ones inner thigh and stabbed the other in the groin before moving sideways. The king stepped up to block a pike with his long sword before taking the soldiers hand.

I blocked a soldier’s lunging blade and cut his throat with my other sword before pushing the king back. One sword swept up and knocked a bolt away as my other blocked a soldier’s lunging spear, “The crossbowman Kendra!”

A second later the flicker of another slim throwing spike flashing out was followed by a scream. The king slipped up beside me and blocked a sword while I sliced the noble’s stomach open. I stabbed another noble that tried to crowd past the screaming man and cut a soldier’s throat with a back hand slice.

The last noble fell with the king’s sword in his throat and the soldiers turned to flee. I looked around carefully before kneeling to wipe my weapons. The king knelt with me, “I never thought the barons would try that.”

I glanced at him before standing, “What happened to your guards?”

He snorted as I turned to Kendra, “Nice throw.”

She grinned, “I have been />
The Emperor’s Voice cleared his throat, “His majesty will be sending a company of his best />
The king barely looked at him, “He can keep his />
I cleared my throat and the king looked at me and shook his head, “I need to teach my nobles that I rule.”

He kicked a noble that was moaning on the ground as a company of city guards ran towards us. I smiled, “my advice would be to ask Duke Godfree and the Guard Captain to help.”

He nodded and then took a breath as the guards reached us, “would you be good enough to escort your bride to be and the Emperor’s Voice back to their Keep?”

I nodded and he turned to the guards, “If any of these traitors are still alive, hang them from the city walls.”

I took Kendra’s hand and nodded to the Emperor’s Voice before starting to walk. A month later Kendra and I were married. She knew we would be leaving and had a wagon waiting after our wedding night. As we left the city I headed for another kingdom that was close to rebelling.

I smiled at my three sons as they moved through their exercises before turning to my second oldest daughter. I caressed her cheek as her mother held her and then pulled out the ring I knew she was meant to have. I slipped it onto her finger as it shrank and glowed and looked into her eyes, “The central kingdom is yours to watch. See the emperor before going to a large tavern called Broken Sword.”

She nodded and turned to hug her mother, “I will stop and see Bridget on the way.”

Kendra smiled, “you just want to show her it is your turn to shine too.”

Elizabeth grinned and kissed her before looking at me and turning to walk towards the wagon waiting. I sighed at letting another of my children go and Kendra slipped under my arm, “she is ready Edward.”

I glanced at her and smiled before giving her a kiss and heading towards our youngest daughters practicing with throwing spikes. I turned at the clearing of a throat and bowed slightly, “you saw Elizabeth before she left young prince?”

He nodded, “I will miss her. Father said to tell you a messenger from the emperor arrived and there is trouble in Kent.”

I sighed and looked at Kendra as she nodded, “I will start />
The prince left and I looked around at seven children in the stable yard before a glowing spectra of my mother appeared, “there are doing very well Edward.”

I nodded and sighed, “I just wish…”

She laughed with a silvery sound, “by the time they are grown and in place a long peace will return.”

I looked at my mother, “would you do it again?”

She smiled and a breath of air brushed my cheek, />
I nodded and turned as Kendra called the children to help her, “I think I would too.”

The end

story by: Kenneth Hammond

Tags: fantasy non-erotic sex story

Author: Kenneth Hammond

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