Kill, the First
His usually bright eyes sparkled with tears as the pain seared through his stomach. The boy's mouth slowly slackened and closed, cutting off his curdling wails. Warm blood was rolling down the wrist of his attacker and staining the tattered cuff of her charcoal sleeve. The assassin's fingers were riddled with trails of scarlet liquid and as the boy's dark eyes glazed with death, he slumped, bringing the attacker's blade further towards his sternum. Blood stained the stone beneath their feet, and as the echoes of the now corpse's screams faded through the caverns, nimble fingers flicked the serrated blade from the victim's stomach and sheathed the dripping knife on the assassin's hip. The boy's lifeless body dropped to the cold stone floor of the cavern opening, and a resounding crack echoed around the area as his skull hit the ground.
* * *
The struggle hadn't lasted long. Morana was fast; her victim no match for her agility or skill. The blade had pierced the boy's flesh easily, tearing through abdominal muscle and internal organs with almost sickening effortlessness.
The assassin retied her waistband as she walked away from the death she'd created. She nodded, satisfied that the soothsayer's assignment was finally complete. The soothsayer was old and ill-tempered, and more often than not, completely surrounded by a shroud of strong smoke. Morana looked down at her reddened hands, disgusted by the congealing liquid and wiped her slender fingers on her tunic, leaving trailing red handprints on the grey fabric.
Swiping a stray hair from her alabaster face, Morana quickened her stroll to a powerful pace, as she distanced herself from her latest kill. There was no trace of her left behind but the gaping wound and bloodied surrounds of the boy, and if by chance there was a clue to the identity of his killer, Morana would be long gone before his crumpled body was found.
The walk was easy, the path smooth and undemanding. Her grey boots scuffed along the dirt track, kicking up small plumes of dust, illuminated by the moon. Caverns hid murder almost perfectly, yet Morana hated them, with their dark, damp openings and suspicious crevices. The open sky above her head and the dusty earth beneath her feet once more, the assassin enjoyed her late evening journey. Her walk slowed as she neared a babbling creek, reflecting the stars in its clear waters. Nearer the stream, the greenery became more and more dense; mottled shadows creating black emptiness in a few places. It will do... Morana thought, and she walked towards the gloom, wetting her boots in the shallow water.
The assassin meticulously checked her surroundings. When satisfied, she slowly undid the pin on her cloak, letting the coarse black fabric fall onto the moist grass. Slinging her waistband onto the crumpled robe, the assassin lifted her tunic over her head and dumped it on the ground. Shivering with a sudden breeze, Morana reached for her belt, which despite her exceptionally deliberate light travelling, held two fine tunics, folded to fit precisely into their inconspicuous pouch. She gently tugged on one of the garments, and slipped into it, relishing the extra layer over her undergarments. Seating herself on a rock, the assassin reached to the other side of the belt and opened another tiny pouch, revealing a small flint. Perching the wobbling flint on her knee, Morana yanked on a corner of her bloodstained tunic, pulling it across the damp grass. Small drops of dew accumulated between the fibres, dampening the tunic just enough that the colour darkened slightly. She struck the flint and watched the shirt burst into slow, orange flame.
Morana gazed into the dancing fire, overseeing the destruction of evidence; she would clean her knife in the morning. It was beautiful, she thought, in a veiled way. The tunic moved with the jumping flames, and slowly disintegrated into the darkened ground. The fire eventually died, leaving a small patch of ash and burnt grass. Satisfied, Morana slipped off her stone perch and wrapped herself in her cloak, beside the small blackened space. Sleep came quickly, and before the assassin had truly settled, vivid images were flashing through her mind's eye.
She was younger, a spritely child. The fields exploded with plumes of colour as Morana and her sister disturbed the wildflowers. They were running, yet again. The spring air played with their hair as they ran through the grassy fields; the rough fabric of the girls' hoods billowed into dark brown parachutes behind their windswept heads.
The two girls couldn't have differed more. Zerlina's flowing red hair was offset by eyes of the deepest forest green, and rosy cheeks. To this day, her hair remained an incomparable auburn, and she gained many suitors; her vanity allowed it, encouraging boys to her door then tossing them aside with a turn of her burning hair. In stark contrast to her younger sister, Morana had almost black hair, piercing ice blue eyes and deathly pale skin. Morana had never been concerned with the local boys, though the slightly more rambunctious ones seemed to have some sort of fixation with her, despite her disinterest.
No matter their differences, the sisters had one physically broad patch of figurative common ground: their overbearing aunt. She taunted the girls to the point of oppression. Bred by her tiresome relatives and lust for something better, Morana's quick temper often resulted in a beating; great red welts frequently striped Morana's pale back. The brutish sister of the girls' late mother drove the sisters to band together and take comfort in one other as she abused them, physically and verbally, leaving behind sisterly quarrels. This escape was one of many attempts, when Morana and her younger sister sought asylum through running.
Morana ran beside Zerlina, and she turned to see their aunt grab a huge knife from the shelf above the fire and give chase. At that very moment, the dream became slow motion, everything was suddenly in extraordinarily high detail. Morana turned back, to hear the drawn out scream of her little sister, and she watched as tears rolled down her peach-coloured cheeks. At this, Morana screamed at Zerlina to keep running as fast and as hard as she possibly could, and not to stop until she physically could not run any further. She watched the flaming red hair on her sister's head bounce as she nodded through her sobs of fear, and turned to face her aunt.
Carlin Achelaus was an overweight, unattractive woman of about two score years and eight. Her smile, though most often a snarl or grimace, bore crooked, chipped teeth and cracking lips. Her narrow brown eyes were too close to her large nose, giving the impression of a cat trying to look at a fly. Morana, even in her tender fourteen years of age, did her best not to laugh.
"Trying to run, Morana?" Carlin spun the knife in her calloused hands, "Teaching your sister bad habits! I ought to end your pathetic life."
"My pathetic life? Oh my dear Aunt Carlin, take a look at yourself." Morana adjusted her stance so as to better taunt, and ready herself to run, "You have a knife, you are going to stab your sister's child, then hunt her younger sister."
"Do not bring your mother into this, termagant. She was a weak-witted child when she had you, and did herself no favours by having Zerlina. Why, Breanne was a blight upon our name. When she took your father as her husband, and lost her ties to this bloodline, I rejoiced." Without any form of warning, Carlin flicked the huge knife outward, striking Morana's cheek. Blood trickled down her face, her cheek bone revealed to the open air. Morana cried out, swiping her hand across the wound.
"My mother was triple the woman you will ever be, Carlin." Morana spat at her indignant aunt, who proceeded to raise the knife once more.
"I will end you and your impertinence, Morana Angwyn."
The dream was back to full speed; the assassin twitched in her sleep. Morana seized her chance, and leapt between the legs of her attacker, running to collect a weapon. Emerging from the tattered shelter she had once called home, Morana wielded a hammer and a small dagger, used for filleting fish. She ran straight for her assailant, nicking her vast belly with the knife. Not a deep cut, but enough for a distraction. As Carlin nursed her wound, she rounded on the running Morana, who spun out of the way of the clumsily swung knife and parried the second blow with the hammer. Only holding her defence for a few seconds, before Carlin's brute force over-powered her arm, Morana lunged, knife outstretched. She felt it pierce flesh with a squelch and drove the small blade deeper, until only the handle was visible. The pain made her aunt falter. Morana withdrew the blade, allowing scarlet to overtake Carlin's tunic. Blood seemed to infect everything, and Carlin looked down at her wound. It wasn't deep enough to affect internal organs, but the throbbing she felt was visible. Morana looked at her victim, weighing up her chances of striking the knife wound, and threw the hammer, her expert aim making it hit its mark, and tear the flesh of her aunt's stomach open a little further. Satisfied she had caused sufficient damage, Morana ran. She ran as fast as her lithe legs could carry her, knowing that Carlin's injury, lack of stamina and weight would hinder progress. Her aunt's motivation would eventually die once she realised the girls were gone. Catching up with her seven year-old sister, Morana, blood-soaked and heart beating wildly, picked Zerlina up, and continued running. Adrenalin had taken over; Morana would not stop until they found shelter.
Zerlina was overwrought; it was a huge burden on a child to successfully run from home, no matter the bleak future staying there held. She quickly became an almost impossible weight on Morana's tender shoulders as she fell asleep. Morana winced as her legs buckled and she hit the grass, skinning her knees. The assassin twitched in her sleep again, turning over in her cloak. Careful to ensure Zerlina's continued slumber, the young woman slowly rose from her forced kneel and continued running. She had a small amount of food shoved down the side of her boots, but it wouldn't sustain even two small girls for very long. Day became night, and as the sun set into the craggy shadows of the mountains, Morana stopped. She suddenly realised how tired she was, how far she'd come and that she and her sister were alone now... But free.
Laying Zerlina down and tossing her own cloak over her sleeping body, Morana nestled into the grass, and as her head hit the ground in her dreams, she woke with a start, touching the scar on her cheek. The assassin found dreaming unnecessary and disturbing, especially when they bore uncomfortable memories. Shaking her head, Morana stood and dusted the dewdrops off her cloak.
Adjusting her belt and swinging her satchel to the other side, the assassin started walking, wading through the shallow water. The clear liquid bubbled over the stones, catching soft fronds of moss in the stream. Birds began to chirrup in the surrounding trees, and the assassin turned to watch the sun emerge over the plains. Morana loosed the ribbon from her hair and flicked the glossy black mass over her shoulders as she tied the ribbon around her wrist.