Reads: 410

Michael weaved between the trees with haste, his cloak flapping behind him as the wind followed in his tracks. The leaves crunched under his feet as he grazed them with his feet, barely touching the ground. His eyes were locked on his target that was only a few paces from him, yet he was quickly closing the gap. Michael reached to his right hip, to find his blade waiting for him eagerly, and drew it from its sheathe, readying it for an attack. As he approached attacking range, he held it at his side, ready to thrust into the back of the target.

Suddenly, the target altered course, taking a left behind a large tree, blocking Michael's view of it. Michael cursed silently under his breath as he prepared for a possible ambush, being nearly upon the tree.

As Michael got to the other side of the large tree, the target was nowhere to be found. Michael stopped cold in his tracks, crouched down, and began inspecting the area. Frustrated in the lack of results, Michael got up and kicked the leaves before him.

After a moment of standing there in frustration, he noticed someone quickly approaching his location from where had come from. From the distance, Michael saw that the man had a cloak as well, but a much smaller one than his. they had a quiver on their back, the arrows jutting out from behind them, along with the end of the bow.

The man reached Michael and stood next to him, Michael not giving him any thought, still peering into the dark forest around him.

"Lost him?" the man asked.

"Yeah. No sign of him. I don't suppose you have any clue of where he might have gone?"


Michael and the man signed, both of them having sweat trickling down their foreheads.

"Five. Miles. Who runs for five miles, for a book?" Michael said in frustration.

"Who knows, maybe it was a special book,"

"Leon, it was a book about pressure points. Who steals a book and runs five miles for a book about pressure points?"

Leon looked away for a moment, his hand on his chin.

"Dunno. Maybe he was into that."

Leon and Michael looked at each other smirking.

"You know, I think I know just the person who would love a book like that," said Leon.

"Oh yeah? Who?"

Leon cracked a sly smile and put his hands on his hips, chest out.

"Que," he said.

Michael and Leon both burst out laughing, unable to contain themselves.

After recovering, Michael composed himself.

"Speaking of Que, we need to let him know about the target."

"Damnit. I was hoping you weren't going to say that," said Leon.

Michael put his hands in the air.

"Best head out then," he said.

On their way out of the forest, the sky was beginning to darken, the clouds nowhere in sight, allowing for the bright moonlight to light their path. Just outside the forest was the dirt road, beaten over the years by carriages traveling to the town. Just past the road was the small town, several older buildings wrapped around the road cutting through it. While the town was old, many of the buildings had been rebuilt several times over, giving the town a strange look where half the buildings were old and rundown, while some were brand new. 

As they made their way into town, the tavern shone brightly in the night, the lights within creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere. From the entrance of the town, Michael and Leon could hear the music of a bard, violin humming to a song.

Leon stopped.

"Look, I get that we have to tell him what happened, but I'd rather not be the one,"

"You want me to tell him?" said Leon.

"You're the better talker."

Leon scowled.

"Fine. But you owe me."

Michael nodded, a slight smile appearing on his face.

As they entered the tavern, the smells of sweet bread and bitter ale filled the air, overwhelming the senses. To the left and right, tables lay strewn about, with many people indulging in a pint or two, cards on the table in a game of poker. At the front counter were many bar stools, with the bartender serving many men and women who seemed completely at the whim of their mug. 

However, among those, was one that stuck out as very distinct. The man wore a long white trenchcoat, with grey lacing. He had short blond hair that seemed to defy gravity itself, spiking at the top. He wore small glasses and white gloves. His shoes were jet black, no lacing to be found, but instead, a long silver zipper going from the ankle to the mid-thigh. His pants were black leather, with a black belt and discreet silver buckle. He was hunched over, but as Michael and Leon entered the building, he sat up, turned around, and looked at the two of them.

"Welcome back, I've been waiting for you," said the man.

Leon nervously smiled and waved, while Michael frowned.

As they approached him, a man sitting at a nearby table glanced at Michael.

"Oi, Margaret, it's one of those things that you were talkin' about earlier."

"Oh, you mean The Marked? Those vile creatures. Why do they have to come here of all places."

Michael glared at the man and woman, then kept moving, his fists clenched up.

Leon glanced at Michael, and lightly jabbed him with his elbow, with a smile on his face.

"We have Que to worry about. Don't worry about those losers," he said.

Michael unclenched his fists, and slowly released the tension in his body.

Michael and Leon stood next to Que, who had now ordered three pints of ale.

"This should help relieve your tension. Relax, I'm not going to grill you,"

Michael and Leon stood back in shock.

"How did you-" Michael stuttered.

"Leon never looks that nervous after accomplishing a mission victoriously. And you, Michael, are missing your prideful look. Come now, it shouldn't be a surprise. Take a seat and relax."

With the tension ceasing, Michael and Leon took a seat.

"Now, what happened?" Que asked.

Michael and Leon were both quiet for a moment. Leon then picked up his mug and began drinking it vigorously for a moment, before putting it back down.

"The guy got away with a book. We chased him for five miles, but we lost him," said Leon.

"How did you lose him?"

"Well, I wasn't actually there. Michael was ahead of me."

Que looked at Michael with an intrigued look.

"Michael, losing a target. Now that's something I haven't heard of in a very long time. Do tell."

Michael looked at his ale, which now looked very enticing. He reached out, but stopped just before touching the mug, and put his hand in his lap.

"To be honest, I'm not entirely sure. I was on his heels, but when I went in to apprehend him, he turned a corner and disappeared."

Que looked at the floor, his hand going to his chin.

"And you saw no sign of where he could have gone?"

Michael shook his head.

"There was no sign of him or any tracks. It's as if he just, disappeared."

Que had a slight frown, narrowing his eyes.

"I see. Very strange indeed. Was he Marked?"

Michael thought back to the events prior to giving chase and tried to remember any markings the man had. After waiting outside the bookshop for an hour, Michael and Leon had given chase, the man running as soon as he saw them. However, the man had long sleeves on, with most of his skin being covered.

"I wasn't able to see any markings, unfortunately. He was mostly covered in cloth."

"Hmmm. Well, without any conclusive evidence, there's naught we can do. I'll have to report this as a failure, but I'll be sure to let the Inquisitor know that you did your best."

Michael and Leon gave a sigh of relief.

"Alright, as you might have already picked up on, we aren't very welcome here. I think it best that we conclude our business here and return to the church."

Que got off his stool, and stood up to leave, leaving a hand on the counter. He then looked at both Michael and Leon.

"Eat, rest up, and be ready for departure at dawn."

"Understood," Michael and Leon said in unison.

Que removed his hand from the counter and went upstairs to his room, Michael and Leon watching until he left.

Leon sighed.

"Well, that could've been worse."

"Could've been better too," Michael said.

"Must you always be a downer? We just got super lucky!"

Michael looked down at his mug, grabbing it and taking a drink.

"Yeah, but the bastard is still out there."

Leon shook his head.

"You may be right. But, it won't do us any good to dwell on it. We did the job to the best of our ability. That's all we can do. It wasn't even supposed to be our job. Que just likes to train us, right? I'm sure it wouldn't count against us since it's not on official church business."

Michael fiddled with his mug. 

"Yeah, you're right. We should forget about it."

He stared into the remaining ale, remembering the man from earlier. The words stuck in his mind. One of those things, vile creature, what the hell do they know. They know nothing about me! His left fist clenched as he drank up the rest of his ale, then slammed it down.

"I'm heading up for the night. I'll see you in the morning, Leon." He said, looking at the floor.

"Yeah, see you in the morning man. Don't sleep too hard, you may fall out of your own skin."

Michael and Leon chuckled.

Michael got up from his booth, and turned around, to see the man and woman from earlier staring at him, sneering. Michael glared at them with a clenched jaw, grinding his teeth. He then swiftly turned around and went to his room upstairs.

As he entered his room, he shut the door. He went to the clothes hanger and put up his cloak and shirt. He placed his sword and flintlock pistol on the table next to his bed. After taking off his shoes and socks, and placing them by his bed, he fell onto his bed. He stared up at the ceiling, bringing his hand up, to see the black marking on his wrist, marking him as one of The Marked. 

It was a set of three circles within each other, and a triangle in the center, its lines stretching out to the edges of the outer eclipse. It had always made him curious as to how such a marking could be imprinted upon a certain people, and why it was the specific pattern for everyone.

Michael put his arm back down, and let himself fade to sleep. As his eyes closed, his spirit began to fall away from his body, drifting off to the roof to watch the stars. This is my time. No one can bother me when I'm like this. I can be free.


Submitted: February 17, 2021

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