Chapter 4

Shurin

October 16, 2732 DH

A crash of thunder boomed overhead as lightning streaked the sky. Shurin's boots slid in the slick mud that had grown slippery from the rain. He cursed under his breath for his bad luck. The rain would help to put the fire out and would not make for a long distraction. He would have to work more quickly than anticipated. Shurin gripped his daggers tightly while he unconsciously stroked one of the blades.

He winced as the blade bit into his thumb. He sighed and forced himself to relax.

Such a stupid habit. Why did I ever start doing it?

There was a snap of a twig behind him, and Shurin spun back and hurled one of his daggers. A small rabbit now lay pinned to the ground writhing in pain. He walked over and inspected the wound he had given it. With a small sigh, Shurin reach around and slit the rabbit's throat before retrieving his first dagger.

He walked back to the edge of the woods and resumed his inspection of the city walls of Husal. Sentries had been increased for the prince's visit and sneaking in would be near impossible.

They shouldn't be looking for anyone yet. Not but a handful could yet know of the assassination. Even so... a shadowblade walking into town in the middle of the night is not a common occurrence.

Shurin stripped of his cloak, gloves, and arm braces. He removed his earring and placed it in one of his pouches before wrapping all of his belongings in his cloak. A strip of cloth tied around the clasp of the cloak served as a shoulder strap so that it could be carried as a backpack. Shurin began to leave towards the city but hesitated.

He placed down his bundle and ran his hands in the mud beneath his feet. Shurin soaked the mud into his hair and let it seep into his scalp. He then walked back over the corpse of the rabbit and brought it up to his mouth. The blood seeping from its neck washed over his tongue and he nearly gagged. Shurin wiped blood off his lips with the back of his hand tossed the rabbit aside.

Shurin held his bundle up over his head to protect him from the rain and ran towards the main gate. The guards were quietly talking amongst themselves but they put their full attention on Shurin as he approached.

"Husal's gates are closed to travelers at this time. Especially for the likes of you, beggar."

"Pl... please, I," Shurin began coughing up blood onto the ground. The guards watched in horror as his body shook and he dropped to his hands and knees. After a violent fit of coughing, Shurin finally started to climb back up to his feet. "Please, I need to get to a healer."

One of guards reluctantly nodded at the other as he began to draw open the gate. "We'll have to check you for anything illegal." He began walking towards Shurin who fell back in horror.

"Don't touch me!" Shurin hissed. Shit, I cornered myself. "All that have touched me have... I..." Shurin brought on another fit of coughing to give himself time to think. I'll have to take my chances... Suril watch over me... "Please, just... just lead me to a healer. I've heard that... Has... Hasha? Hashira? can cure anything..."

One of the guards groaned to himself. Shurin watched as the guards flipped a silver coin between them. The loser cursed under his breath and opened the gate. He waved for Shurin to follow. "Come on, come on, just keep your distance. I don't know why anyone would want to see Hashilin but I'll escort you there."

Shurin limped and followed the guard; occasionally stumbling into walls or falling to his knees. Much of Husal was well kept. The prince loved to spend time here and the city's wealth had grown fat with his presence. But not here. Not where the guard lead Shurin.

Each turn, each new street seemed to be a descent into yet a lower level of rot and decay. Shurin often wondered how some of the buildings even managed to remain standing. The blackest and cruelest of men owned this part of the city. No city guard dared to arrest anyone here. They'd never make it back alive. There are no laws, here. Even the whores feared leaning too far over the balconies for fear of their lives.

I'm home.

Eventually they arrived at a small, dilapidated building at the end of the street. Above the door was a rotting sign with the symbol of Suril imprinted on it. One of the chains had rusted through and split so that it hung sideways; swinging in the putrid breeze that swirled along the street. The guard held his hand over his mouth and coughed. "That's close enough for me. Get in there you wretch. And don't ever come near me again." The guard waited around just long enough to watch Shurin enter the building before hurrying back to the main gate.

Shurin lightly closed the door behind him. The room had a single occupant. A ghostly pale man sat behind a dusty desk. He wore a thick wool robe with the hood pulled back. Age had take most of his hair and only a few whisks of white remained. His eyes were sunken deep into his face. His skin was stretched tight and Shurin could almost make out the bone behind his cheeks.

The man stood, and even this simple action seemed to cause him to shake in pain. He placed his hands on the desk for support. "What brings you to my... you. You may hide and change your appearance, but you can't escape my vision boy."

"I'm sorry, I had to take chance. I didn't know if..." Shurin trailed off and looked at the ground. Even now he could not lock eyes with the old man. Dust billowed up into the air and filled the space around him as Hashilin coughed. It seemed forever that he was bent over while convulsions racked his frail body. When finally the fit came to an end, he wiped a streak of blood from the corner of his mouth.

Hashilin wearily shuffled over to Shurin and wrapped his arms around him. "Bah! Grudges. I thought I taught you better than that." Shurin stood still with this old man wrapped around him. He would not, could not return this embrace.

"It's... it's good to see you again. But I can't stay. I... I needed an excuse to get into the city. I didn't know any other way."

"So even now you use me." Hashilin sighed. "I'm glad to see you again, Shurin. It has been a long time. Go then. And I forgive you. I will always forgive you."

"Thank you. For everything."

Shurin walked to the only window at the back of the room. He slid it open and slipped outside. Shurin tried to spit out the remaining rabbit blood in his mouth but the revolting taste continued to linger. He slung his pack over his shoulder and began jogging down the street. There was a shadowblade safe house in this town. He needed a place he could relax and think things out. His mind still reeled from the day's actions.

Damn it. Why the hell did I have to get there first. If my contract had died, I would have been kicked out of the guild, but at least I wouldn't be on the run. It will be said a shadowblade killed the prince. I'll be offered up as a traitor so that the name of the blades is not tainted. Damn.
A crack from the roof above jerked Shurin's eyes skyward. A curse was muttered as a man hidden in the shadows managed to regain his balance and re-aim his crossbow. The bolt was fired but Shurin ducked into an alleyway and began searching for something to climb.

An arm was brought around his throat. Shurin brought his right hand up, weapon in hand, just in time to catch the steel that would have been drawn across his throat. He clawed at the grip of his attacker as he struggled for air. He threw his weight backwards and the two of them crashed into the side wall but the choke hold remained. Shurin's attacker was easily stronger but slightly off balance due to the pack strapped around Shurin's shoulders. His vision began to blur and darken as he released his grip on the arm strangling him to reached for a blade with his left hand. Shurin drove the blade backward as hard as he could and heard a cry of pain as the point made contact. The arm grew weaker but still maintained its hold. Shurin twisted the blade in the body behind him and began carving upward with a sawing motion.

Shurin gasped for air as his attacker finally loosened his grip. The dagger near his throat clattered to the stones below. A click from above signified that a crossbow had been reloaded. Shurin dropped while retaining a grip on the corpse behind him. The bolt bounced off the armor of the corpse.

Shurin crawled out from underneath, and grabbed his attacker's dagger. He attempted to dash down the alley but slipped on the blood that now coated the cobblestones. A crossbow bolt screamed through the air before it punch into Shurin's left arm just above the elbow. He tried to scream in pain but the wind had been knocked out of him. Shurin rolled towards the building that held his attacker and gather himself underneath the roof. The assassin above leaned over the edge to try and get a better shot. A quick and silent dagger hurled upward met with the attacker's neck and killed him instantly.

The assassin's body rolled over the edge and met the stone ground with a sickening crunch. Blood splattered in all directions. Shurin took as long as he dared to catch his breath before dashing over to the crossbow. Re-loading it was difficult with only one arm but still manageable. Shurin ripped a bit of one of the assassin's tunics and strapped the crossbow to his damaged arm. Crossbow in one hand, dagger in the other, Shurin padded out of the alleyway.

As he rounded the corner, he was confronted with three more shadowblades. Shurin fired the cross bow and hit one of his foes in the shoulder but they were just as quick and had fired their crossbows. Shurin brought his dagger up to defend himself while ducking down to the ground to dodge. He managed to block one of the bolts but the other scraped his side and ripped through his backpack and pinned it to the wall behind him.

Shurin attempted to wrench free but cloak he had used ripped in half and all his possessions spilled onto the street. Shurin reached down and grabbed his earring before diving through a nearby window as more bolts whistled through the air. He hit the ground rolling and kept running looking frantically for an exit. The closest path available to him were some stairs going up to the second floor of the house.

Shurin sprinted up the stairs and found a window. He opened it and carefully scanned outside. He could hear his pursuers downstairs now, hunting for him. They whistled to each other as each room was cleared. Shurin took a deep breath and scrambled out the window and up onto the roof.

The earlier storm had finally begun to calm but the roof was still left slick and treacherous. Shurin crouched down on all fours to better grip the flimsy tiles beneath him. He could hear the muffled sounds of searching going on below. A sharp whistle and one of the assassins had noticed the open window. Shurin crept to the opposite end of the building and looked over his shoulder.

The first of his attackers were making their way up onto the roof. Shurin lowered himself over the edge and braced his legs against the wall. Across the narrow alley was another building and a closed window. He leapt across and brought his arms up protectively over his head as he crashed through the glass. Shurin hit the ground rolling and bounded to his feat. Next to the window was a bookcase and he made no hesitation to hurry around and slide it in front of the window.

Shurin leaned his weight into it just in time to be greeted with a solid thud and grunt as an assassin had tried to make the jump; followed by a scream cut short as the man fell to his death.

A door opposite of Shurin swung open with a sharp bang. The owner of the house, holding a large broadsword in front of him, filled the doorway. "Your head will hang on a pike outside, Burglar scum!" The enraged man charged and thrust his sword. Daggers shot into Shurin's hands as if from nowhere and he ducked down into his favorite stance. Low to the ground. Left side forward and dagger in the left hand pointing down in a reverse grip.

Shurin made to block the sword with his left hand but screamed and fell to his knees when the shock hit his injured arm. The man raised his sword above his head and swung downwards at Shurin looking to slice his face in two. Shurin was forced to block with his right had but the sheer force of the blow slammed him into ground and knocked the wind out of him. The owner raised his sword again and Shurin kicked out wildly at the man's legs.

The owner momentarily lost his balance and his swing was sent wide. The sword stuck into the wood. Shurin reached up and raked his dagger across the man's wrists and severed the tendons. Shurin bounced to his feet and ran out of the room. He never looked back to discover the fate of the now screaming owner of this house.

Shurin raced down the hallway and into the next room. This was the bedroom and here a woman lay in bed huddled under the covers. "Thank god you're..." but she stopped when she saw it wasn't who she expected and screamed. There was another window across from the bed and Shurin jogged over and opened it. He absentmindedly scooped up the sack of coins sitting on a dresser next to him and pocketed the money before pulling himself back up to the rooftops.

Why are they after me already. There is no way word would have reached this fast. They were waiting for me. I have to know why.

The moon was beginning to show through the clouds above and beams of pale moonlight danced across the city. Shurin worked his way over the rooftops of the city and kept to the darkness. There was one particular house he had in mind located a few blocks west of where he was now.

The assassins had been reluctant to follow Shurin after watching their companion fall to his death. They had begun searching other buildings and rooftops but stealth is what any assassin knows best. Now that Shurin knew someone was after him he blended in to his surroundings.

The more superstitious of the world believe that shadowblades actually have the ability to cloak themselves in darkness and become invisible to the naked eye. But Shurin had no such ability. Only a lifetime of training not to be seen. Simple enough tricks, once you know them. The eye can only see what it expects to see.

A few blocks west and Shurin found what he was looking for. He knelt along the roof scanning the darkness beyond. He could detect no flicker of movement amongst the shadows. Satisfied, he eased himself over the roof and began sliding aside the window. Just enough to slide his fingers inside and feel for the wire tied to the other side of it. But his fingers found nothing.

Shurin slid his dagger through the opening and cut through the air but felt nothing give. Nothing strained against his blade. He slid the window fully open and slid into the dusty darkness. As his eyes adjusted, Shurin found that the trip wire had already been cut.

His gaze scanned the shadows of the room as he reached behind him and felt for the window. He drew it closed without ever turning his back towards the room. Keeping his back to the wall and his hands on his daggers, Shurin sidestepped across the length of the room until he reached a small desk. Laying across the desk was a lamp. Shurin instinctively reached up to his ear but found nothing.

Rooting through his pouches, he found his earring. He brought it near the lamp and struck it against the metal casing. Sparks flew in the air and caught fire. The feeble light did a poor job of penetrating the shadows of the room but it was enough. The small room was sparse and dusty. Made to look abandoned but a small desk across from the only window contained an organized stack of papers as well as fresh ink. A door in the corner had wooden planks across it that were nailed to the wall. The only way in was through the window.

On top of the desk was a contract for Shurin's assassination. A message had been sent out saying that Shurin had killed the prince. A traitor amongst the shadowblades has only one future, death. The shadowblades take care of their own. There were other papers amongst the desk for various contracts currently active. All contracts used cyphers known to all the shadowblades to hide their contents.

All such cyphers are drilled into the memory of every member and Shurin could read them without stopping to translate the actual text. He could read all but one hastily sketched note.

Kalru,

Ata gob toce, ncw sod untla. Aohrldw shrhv hma ehfln, teba eat eeae itk teal.

The letters were beginning to blur and dizziness overcame him. Shurin was beginning to feel the effects of his blood loss. He concentrated on the letters to try and read it but no matter how he mentally replaced the letters or which direction he read in he could make no sense of it. Shurin pocketed the note so that he might decipher it later. Right now he needed to get out of this city.

He took a moment to bandage his arm. Not a terrible wound but he had still lost too much blood. Shifting as much of his weight as possible to his right arm, Shurin scaled down the building and dropped to the street below.

I need to buy myself as much time as possible. It can't be known that I escaped the city.