Sunday, 6 October 2013

Black Russian

I sat back, smiling, arms outstretched.

“I’ll do anything for money,” I said. “Tell me what I have to do and consider it done.”

“It’s me old boss ya see,” he started out, a bit of a stammer in his voice. He was a cowardly type, young and in good need of a shower, not that I could talk. His clothes were scrappy and torn, except for his cap that he’d obviously stolen. It didn’t stop it from being grimy though. “He treated me real ruff, and now he won’t give me a penny for my girlfriend who’s pregnant. I can’t even afford a loaf of bread. He fired me for complainin’ and I thought if you bump him off we could split his money ‘alf-‘alf. Are ya up for it?”

I eyed him steadily.

“What time is it?”

He fumbled ion a pocket, but he came out empty handed.

“I must’ve dropped it,” he muttered.

I pulled out his filthy pocket watch, dangling it by the chain.

“I do believe its five o’clock,” I said.

He looked up and stared at the watch. He wasn’t amused.

“And also time for my first payment,” I pocketed the object. It’d be worth a few bob once I’d sparked it up nicely.

He silent for a moment.

“All right. Meet you at Clint-Lee’s Ironmongery in an hour.”

I swore I heard him mutter something unsavoury under his breath as he left. All the better. Now he wouldn’t try and blackmail me. Probably.

As I was about to leave another man slid into the seat opposite. He was tall, slim and haughty, a fine trim to his plain black clothes. Not the usual sort who’d be sitting across from me. Well, not the usual sort you’d see in this establishment. Or in this neighbourhood for that matter.

“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked.

I nodded and he called over a waitress, ordering us both a brandy. He waited till she was out of earshot.

“Black Russian?”

I nodded again. I’d been given that name long ago from my habit of sleeping in chimneys, so I was always black with soot. My appearance, mixed with the Russian accent I’d learnt from my dead mother, had been the reason the name had been born. Plus, I’d needed an alias.

“Have you ever heard of the Forced Hand?”

“Nup,” I said, folding my arms across my chest. “I don’t know and I don’t care either. Just give me your money and tell me what to do. It’ll be done by morning.”

He eyed me speculatively.

“My name is Trevor Mc-”

I cut him off with a wave of my hand. His eyes glinted dangerously, and I fingered the hilt of his knife, feeling the intricate carvings and jewels. He was a rich man.

When I remained silent he continued, “My name is Trevor McMillin. I am but a messenger in this society, and trust me when I say that it will kill you if you doublecross me, and worse if you betray us. Don’t mistake me on that.”

“How knives do you have Trevor?”

“As many as I need to kill you.”

I took that as meaning he had only one. It wouldn’t take much.

“Then you must be very skilled, seeing as you have none,” I held the knife up to the light. The hilt glimmered gold. I felt every eye in the establishment turn on us, each one malicious and scheming. They all wanted that knife. And they’d kill to get it. “You said I couldn’t doublecross you. I haven’t. This is blackmail.”

Trevor seethed beneath his stony fa├žade, but whether he had another knife or not didn’t matter. If he left with this knife, then he would die. And he knew I could slip it back to him without him noticing, just as I’d slipped it away.

“What do you want?”

“A straight answer,” I replied. “What is your offer.”

“You receive two million,” I stared at him, dumbfounded. “If you kill the Empress.”

I laughed heartily, and brandished the dagger openly, turning serious as I leant towards him.

“Very funny,” I hissed. “Now tell me, what do you want me to do?”

An invisible force sent me flying from my chair and crashing into the back wall. I groaned in pain, the dagger clattering to the floor. I was trapped six feet above the ground, unable to move my limbs.

“Oh, I’m deadly serious,” Trevor said, his voice sounding as low and menacing as if he were whispering in my ear, but he still sat at the table, perfectly calm, eyes locked on mine.

“You’re crazy,” I spluttered, pressure increasing on my chest. “The whole country will be at war. Azriel is already priming to invade, and it’ll be a perfect opportunity. Not only is your plan insane, but using magic at a bar? Not the wisest idea.”

“I’m all for Azriel,” and suddenly I saw it. He was definitely not from Ichenhaus. “And as to the magic, at the moment no one can see us, and nor can they hear us. In fact, they never did.”

“Why all the secrecy?”

The magic released and I fell to the ground, more pain spearing up my legs, but I managed to stay on my feet.

“I assume that means it’s none of my business,” I said dryly, climbing back onto my chair.

Trevor nodded.

“What happens if I say no?” I asked.

“If you back out now, I’ll be forced to kill you.”

I snorted.

“I have a feeling you’d rather enjoy that. Why not brainwash me as you have these others?”

“You’re too curious. You’d wonder why something was missing and go searching. I can’t have that.”

I eyed him warily, and finally handed over the knife, hilt first. He looked mildly surprised, never having seen me pick it up. Idiot. That was my speciality after all. Killing was only a sideline to earn extra money. I didn’t enjoy being an assassin.

He took the blade, and after a moment’s consideration ran a finger down the length and passed it back to me. Somehow he didn’t draw blood. Blasted Wizards.

“What’s this for?” I demanded suspiciously.

“It’ll help you kill the Empress.”

“I haven’t said yes yet.” Presumptuous twit.

“Two million,” Trevor said, raising his eyebrows suggestively.

I ignored him, studying the knife. It wasn’t dented from use, no markings scratched the gold. Did he carry it around just for show? Gold was too weak a metal for a dagger, but you never really knew where magic was involved.

My thoughts switched to the two million. All that money running through my finger made me shiver in anticipation. I could give up stealing, murdering and living off the streets in exchange for a quiet life as a recluse in the country.

But where had they got all that money from? Shadowy organisations got money from shadowy places, and the last thing I wanted was to be tracked down by the law. I’d be hung a thousand times over if I got caught.

My thoughts returned to the money, like the greedy sod I was.

“I’ll kill your Empress.”

“No, actually, you’ll kill your Empress,” Trevor replied, smiling slyly. “I would wish you luck, but if it comes anywhere near to luck I’ll be paying you a visit,” his smile broadened. “And it won’t be one you’ll enjoy.”

“No, but I have a feeling you will,” I said, grim but determined. “I shouldn’t be too worried about that though. I have a hunch the Empress won’t be looking in the mirror again any time soon.”

“If your work is half as bad as your jokes, I’m sure she will,” Trevor said, standing.

“That was no joke. She’s a beautiful woman.”

“Don’t let that get in the way,” he said, turning to leave.

“Wait,” I called. “When will I get the dough?”

“When you’ve finished the job.”

And without another word, he vanished.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Fame and Escapism

Nevada waited for the right moment and then yanked the handles sideways, sending the plane swerving off to the right. A bullet flew past the window, missing the plane by inches.

“Far out,” Nevada growled. “We almost got hit then.”

Houdini was silent, his finger deftly checking through his parachuting equipment while his eyes were trained on the gunner squatting on top of a skyscraper.

A round of bullets sounded and Nevada sent the plane into a dive, straight for the murky waters of the Thames. The bullets splashed into the water around them as the plane levelled out and began to slope back up towards Tower Bridge.

“Watch out London,” Nevada muttered, pulling the handles as far as she could from the dashboard, causing the plane to put on a burst of speed.

The plane shot through the gap in Tower Bridge, heading straight for the Olympic Stadium.

“Is your parachute ready Ms Tyrelli?” Houdini asked, finally satisfied with his equipment.

“Yes,” Nevada said, lying through her teeth.

“Get moving Ms Tyrelli.”

Nevada ignored him and put a bit of pressure on the brake as they got closer to the stadium. She had a quick look in the rear vision mirror and saw several planes in pursuit. She pressed the autopilot button and began checking through her parachute straps.

“One,” Houdini said, unclipping his seatbelt. “Two,” he threw open the door and the plane began to beep like crazy. “Three!”

Houdini leapt out of the cabin, Nevada not far behind him. There were a few moments of terrifying free fall before Nevada pulled her cord, the parachute flew open and she was wafting slowly towards the ground.

The plane exploded in a flash of white light as a bullet smashed into the fuel tank, igniting the avgas. Smoking hot shards of metal fell from the wreck, burning her skin and hair before she shook them loose.

Nevada looked up. The parachute was now littered with holes, but seemed to be holding her weight. Below her Houdini was floating just above the entrance to the stalls and as she got closer she could see a hundred hands reaching out to grab him.

Nevada grabbed a second cord dangling from the parachute bag.

“If this crazy invention doesn’t work,” she whispered. “I will kill Houdini myself.”

Nevada waited a moment longer until Houdini’s feet just brushed the waiting hands, and pulled.

A cloud of white powder rained down on the spectators and they began coughing and spluttering, bumbling about blindly as their eyes watered. Two parachutes descended onto their heads, adding to the confusion, and by the time security had sorted the mess the offenders had simply disappeared.

Nevada hurried to keep up with the boy as he manoeuvred through the crowds.

“You’re lucky that worked,” she panted. “Now wait up!”

Houdini ignored her and kept ducking, sliding and slithering through the throng. Being an escape artist certainly had its perks.

“Houdini!” Nevada exclaimed. When he didn’t turn around she muttered, “Imbecile.”

The boy soon stole off into a maintenance room and Nevada slipped in after him. Houdini had left the air vent cover lying on the ground and she swore as she crawled in after him, wondering why he had to take such a way. It was dark inside the tunnel, but she was able to follow him from the faint rustle of clothing ahead. Houdini could be so annoyingly smart; he’d usually be silent on a job but he’d realised she would need a guide. Nevada sighed. She’d have to put up with him for a long while yet.

Nevada saw the sunlight before she found the air vent with missing cover. She climbed out noiselessly and looked about.

Houdini was standing beside the Olympic torch, carefully attaching some kind of device to the side of the dish that held the dancing flames. Around them the crowd went wild as a man pole vaulted his way into the history books.

“How long do you think we have before someone notices?” Nevada asked, hand on hips, looking out at the arena.

“Not long Ms Tyrelli,” Houdini replied. “So I suggest you let me get on with the job.”

Houdini soon had everything set to his satisfaction, and stood up from his crouch, stretching his legs. He held a small black box in his hand with a red button in the centre and Nevada wondered what is for. Houdini never told her his entire plan, only the part that she needed to carry out. Sometimes it annoyed her, but other times she realised that he was only being sensible.

A security guard hurried over, noticing the pair.

“Stand back,” Houdini called, waving the box threateningly.

The man stopped, a worried look crossing his face as a million ideas ran through his head as to what the box could do. Finally he decided exactly what Houdini had wanted him to think. That the big red button could trigger an explosion and destroy the whole stadium.

“You could kill everyone, including yourself,” the guard said, holding his hands in the air, his sun glasses glinting in the sun. “Is that really what you want?”

Another guard came running over, speaking urgently into his walkie-talkie. A few seconds later Nevada heard the unmistakeable buzzing of helicopter. The security guards had managed to convince Houdini to come away from the supposed bomb and have a little chat, but Nevada stood where she was, waiting to carry out her part in the plan.

There was a hiss as four men descended from the helicopter on ropes, their gloves taking the damage. They jumped to the ground and secured cables dangling from the helicopter to the sides of the torch. They stood clear as the helicopter pulled the ropes taught and the torch began to rise off the ground. Nevada took a running leap onto the dish and landed with a metallic crash before she scrambled up the cables. By the time she had forced the door open the helicopter already had the torch a metre off the ground.

The men inside were startled by her appearance and she made quick work of them, elbowing one in the neck and punching the other in the jaw, both immediately out cold. She undid the pilot’s seatbelt and shoved him out of the seat before securing herself in his place. She took the controls and leaned as far forward as she could to get a good look of what was going on below. There was a frenzy of security guards and reporters, the latter recording every word that came out of Houdini’s mouth. Soon she was as close as she could get to the boy, the torch almost scraping along the ground and the down draft from the helicopter whipping at his hair. He jumped aboard the torch, holding one of the cables for balance and the helicopter began to rise up out of the stadium.

Houdini waved at the shocked security guards and feverish reporters, knowing that his plan had succeeded. He had made London look like a fool in front of the world. The name Houdini would be remembered for generations to come, and he could now rest in peace while his fame lived forever.

Underworld

Liathny wandered along the bank of the river Styx, her sword trailing in the dirt behind her. She could see Charon’s black gondola in the distance, its lantern lighting up the gloom. Cerberus’ three heads were all focused across to the underworld, his serpent tail curled around his motionless body. Liathny shrugged her lyre back into her shoulder, its reassuring weight reminding her of the threat. While Charon may be mildly friendly with her, the last time she had met with Cerberus he had left a long scar down her side. The lyre had been used once before to send the three headed dog to sleep, so Liathny had decided to take one with her, just in case.

Charon held out a hand for his payment and Liathny deposited a few coins into his bony palm before climbing aboard. Charon began paddling across to the underworld, his thin body completely shrouded in his black cloak, his face hidden in the cowl.

“So, how’s work been recently?” Liathny asked.

Charon was silent.

“That’s good,” she continued. “Glad you’ve been busy. I’m sure it can get boring otherwise,” she said, pulling a book and pencil from her pocket. “Here’s a book of Sudoku for when you have some free time.”

Charon didn’t reply as she sat the present on the floor beside him. The gondola bumped against the far shore and Liathny jumped out.

“Thanks for the ride,” she said. “Have fun with the Sudoku!”

Charon gave her a nod as she walked off, waving her sword to a catchy tune.

The land of the dead, or the underworld was not as bleak and desolate as it sounded. From the other side it appeared to be veiled in mist, but now she was there Liathny could see the luscious green grass and rolling hills, ghostly spirits lounging in the pale light that radiated from no visible source. She followed the pebbled path through the hills, never once stepping from it. There could be untold dangers stepping from the path, and Liathny didn’t want to try her luck.

She reached the top of the hill where she had agreed to meet, pushing open the orchard gate and stepping inside. The apple trees were in bloom, their flowers gorgeous pink and white. She walked among the trees, the wind gently ruffling the leaves, until she came to a white bench seat where a young girl sat.

The girl’s chestnut hair curled down her back, her deep, lusciously brown eyes on the twirling flower in her hand. Her outline shimmered in the way that all ghosts do, adding to the beauty of her flowing white dress. She looked up as Liathny approached.

“Sister,” the girl said quietly. “It’s nice to see you again.”

“Orara,” Liathny replied, slipping onto the seat beside her. “How’s death been treating you?”

Orara smiled.

“At least I’m not getting any older,” she sighed. “I do miss the real world though. I’m the youngest spirit here, as no one has given anyone a proper ceremony in hundreds of years at least!”

“They can’t be all bad,” Liathny said, jiggling her sword up and down. “I mean, there must be millions of people. At least one of them must be nice.”

“I haven’t met that one yet,” Orara replied dryly. “They’re all so boring, talking about what is was like when they were alive. Half the time I can’t even understand what they’re saying.”

“At least you had a good life,” Liathny said. “Not everyone does.”

“Being run over by a cart is not having a good life,” she snorted. “At least you’re still alive sis.”

Liathny grinned at her.

“I won’t be if Cerberus gets me again,” she said, undoing her jacket and lifting up her shirt to show off her scar. “Look what he did last time!”

Orara was wide eyed.

“What happened?” she asked.

“He mistook me for a soul trying to escape,” Liathny said, shrugging. She tapped her lyre. “At least I’ve got something to protect myself with now.”

Orara looked at her, disappointed.

“You better get going,” she said. “You can’t stay here much longer or you won’t be able to leave.”

Liathny stood and took her sister’s hand.

“See you later,” she said, giving her a wink. “Have fun.”

With that she sashayed off out of the orchard. Orara watched her leave, a smile on her delicate face.

“I wish you well sister,” she whispered.

Liathny leapt aboard the black gondola, the little craft bobbing as she did so.

“Have you tried the Sudoku yet?” she asked, eyeing the almost blunt pencil.

Charon said nothing, but even under his cloak she could tell he was embarrassed.

“Can I see how you went?”

Again there was no reply as Charon began to paddle, so Liathny took that as a yes and picked up the puzzle book. She flicked through it eagerly.

“Wow, you’re good at these Charon!” she exclaimed. “You’ve got five right and I’ve barely been gone half an hour!”

Cerberus took one pair of eyes from the land of the dead to stare at their little craft, his eyes as black as night. Liathny eyed him nervously and slowly took her harp down from her shoulder.

“If you even sneeze I’m going to unleash this upon you dog,” she warned. “So you better watch it.”

The gondola bumped gently against the far back and Liathny climbed out, her eyes on Cerberus all the while. She nodded to Charon in thanks and crept silently past the three headed monster, one head following her every move. A twig snapped and she whirled around to see a man stalking up behind her.

He was not a bad looking man, but his clothes and hair soaked as if he had just stepped out of the river and his fine facial features were distorted by a grimace. Liathny, casting a glance up and down, noticed that the trouser hem around one ankle was completely dry.

“Who are you?” Liathny demanded, her eyes steely in annoyance.

“I am Achilles,” the man replied, holding out a hand.

She refused to take it and waved her sword under his chin.

“What are you doing here?”

“Whoa!” Achilles exclaimed, his hands up in defence. “I was only going for a swim!”

“In that?” Liathny asked. “The Styx river is not just for paddling in.”

He rolled his eyes.

“You think I don’t know that?” he replied. “I’m a warrior. I come here to make my skin impenetrable.”

“Are you going to let me go on my way then?” she asked.

Achilles shook his head, his hazel eyes sad.

“I can’t,” he sighed. “You returned from the land of the dead. You have to go back.”

“I went to visit my sister,” Liathny replied.

“The underworld is not like a hospital,” Achilles said, exasperated. “You can’t just go visiting people for the fun of it. Imagine if everyone did that. How would we keep track of who was allowed to leave and who wasn’t. It’d be chaos!”

“Well if you’re not going to let me go, I suppose I’ll have to fight my way out of here.”

Achilles wrapped her in a determined bear hug as soon as she swung her first sword stoke, grabbing the blade as if it was blunt and pulling her in to his arms. Liathny squirmed out of his grasp and ducked low, aiming for his ankle. The man was fast, blocking her with a knee before grabbing her short hair in his hands.

“No fair,” Liathny panted, trying to ignore the pain.

Achilles, his conscious getting the better of him, let go. That was a mistake. Liathny lashed out and managed to cut deep into his ankle, leaving him staggering before her collapsed on the ground, crying out in agony. She turned to leave.

“Don’t go,” Achilles begged. “I’ll bleed to death if someone doesn’t help me.”

Liathny rolled her eyes, walked back over to him and grabbed the back of his shirt before dragging him down towards the river.

“Go put it in your precious river,” she said. “That’ll save you.”

With that she stalked off, leaving him alone. Achilles stared after as he let the sacred water lap against his ankle.

“Women,” he sighed. “What would we do with out them?”

As he turned back to the river her heard Liathny’s laughter behind him and knew she’d over heard. He shook his head.

“And she never even told me her name.”

Monday, 25 February 2013

Tigress Part 1-The Ruby

Tigress peered into the luscious red depths of the ruby. Jewels had a grip on her like nothing else, not like clothes, not like men, not even like gossip sessions with friends. Not that she had many of them anymore. In fact, she had none.

A ting alerted her to her surroundings, including the people falling over themselves to get out of the lift. These were not professionals, but still she cursed herself for wasting time. Tigress knew she could take the over-eager school boys any day, despite their waving guns. She had a small armoury hanging from her belt, and she could use them all with amazing precision, and enjoyment. After all, who didn’t enjoy killing hyper-ambitious, stuck up men with a like for big-busted, no-brained women? That’d teach them a thing or two.

The men piling out of the lift paid her no attention, their eyes fixing on the ruby. Obviously her bra size wasn’t big enough for them. Shame that. Some of them weren’t bad looking either. But they would be pretty ugly with a broken nose.

Tigress sprang into action as soon as the lift doors clanged shut. A knife whizzed through the air, thudding into the first man’s chest. He fell to the ground even as she charged towards her next target.

This man was the burliest of the lot, and she wished she could have taken him first. Tigress didn’t really want a wrestling match, she wasn’t exactly buff, and would have preferred to have hit him with that knife. Unfortunately he’d been last out of the lift and had been out of her range. She’d have to practice harder.

Tigress head butted the man in the chest, catching him by surprise. The dark room offered cover, and her shoes were soft-soled, so she was about as quiet as her namesake. Thankfully there would be no wrestling match tonight.

The man stumbled backwards and she followed up her first move by ramming the heel of her hand into the underside of his chin. There was a crack as his head snapped up and he toppled like a felled tree.

The remaining four tried to close in on her, but Tigress launched a karate kick at the closest man, hurling his gun out of reach, before grabbing his wrist and forcing his arm up his back. She used him like a shield, blocking the other three men from having a clear shot. One kid’s gun shook and he looked as if he was about to wet himself, obviously a newbie. She could leave him till last, as he was more likely to flee than the others, but uncertain types were unpredictable and could end up killing someone by accident. She wasn’t about to take that chance.

Tigress shoved her shield into the newbie, at the same time as throwing a punch at a second man’s nose. A shot fired, and her former shield crumpled. She snatched the gun from the closest man, who now had a broken nose, before kicking him in the balls. He clutched at his injured body part and joined the three men already on the floor. Tigress pointed the gun at the only untouched man, who dropped his weapon and raised his hands in defeat. Newbie was still staring at his smoking gun, too shocked to move. Tigress gave her flashiest smile to the man whom her barrel was aimed at. He didn’t exactly wilt under her charms, but hey, no one looked sexy in a black leather one piece with their hair tied back in an immaculate bun. She was dressed for practicality after all.

“Stay still gentleman,” Tigress said, backing slowly away, gun still pointed firmly at the man’s chest. “I’ll just take my leave and then you can do as you please.”

Newbie glanced up at her, but neither did so much as wave goodbye as she knocked the ruby from its perch with her foot and caught it expertly in her open hip-bag. They didn’t look impressed as she headed towards the rope dangling from the ceiling, her gun never wavering.

“Oh, and if you feel so inclined, please inform the mayor that my name is Tigress, not Cat Woman,” she held the gun in one hand and the rope in the other as she wrapped her legs around her escape route. “And that’s spelt T-I-G-R-E-S-S by the way. Thankyou so much.”

With a cheery wave and a wink Tigress dropped the gun and shimmied up the rope into the night, the ruby safely tucked in her hip-bag.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Jon Piquet

Jon sat bolt upright, awoken by the sound of steel being pulled from a sheath. He pulled on some trousers and his hat and peeked outside. The farmyard appeared deserted; the only place an intruder could hide being the barn. Jon crept from the tent and across the wet grass to the barn and slipped inside.

Standing by the door in the dark he was virtually invisible, the only light coming from a small window above him, letting the moon shine in. A slim figure was dancing across the ground, her feet flying and sword swishing through the air in graceful arcs. Jon watch in awe as the girl finally came to a standstill, balanced on her toes, sword raised. Jon began to clap, slowly and purposefully, and the girl whirled to face him.

“Bravo, bravo,” Jon said, snatching the sword from her hand and scraping it gently down her cheek bone, cool metal whispering across her skin as he circled her.

The girl stood perfectly still, staring straight ahead as Jon came to her side. He grabbed her chin and turned her face to look him in the eye.

“I thought so,” Jon said, throwing the sword down on the hay, his face centimetres from hers as he observed her fine features. “What are you doing out so late? You could fall prey to any number of things, wild beasts and even men.”

“I can take care of myself,” she growled, giving him a steely glare.

“Oh?” Jon said, lowering his hand to her neck and leaning in close to her ear. “I don’t see you doing much right now.”

She latched onto his wrist and snuck behind him, pulling his arm up behind his back. He laughed through the pain and kicked her in the shin, causing her to loosen her grip. Jon spun around and crashed into her, sending the two of them sprawling into the hay. The girl glowered at him angrily while Jon gave her a charming smile.

“Nice try,” he said. “But there is something I must tell you before you try and escape. No one gets away from me.”

“Why, because they are timid, innocent little girls?” she grabbed his bare, muscled shoulders and hauled him over so she was on top.

“Nothing of the sort,” Jon replied. “Men don’t get away either.”

“That’s all I would expect of the sort who sneaks about in barns and night.”

“That’s not what I meant,” they rolled over again and he cocked his head at her. “I’m Jon Piquet,” his French accent twisting the words so he almost purred. “And no one beats me in a fight.”

“Do not think everything will always go your way,” the girls said with a twinkle in her eyes as she landed on top once again. “Or you are a fool.”

She jumped up, leaping onto a pole that spanned the width of the barn, supporting the roof. Jon sat up on his elbows to watch as she swung up into the rafters and balanced her way across a beam before turning back to him, hands on hips.

“Come and get me,” she said.

Jon threw her sword up to her, which she caught neatly in one hand, before he followed her route upwards, landing perfectly balanced, sword out and ready. He approached her slowly.

“You dare to fight with the master of Bruche?” Jon asked, raising an eyebrow.

The girl gave him a cocky smile and sashayed towards him as easily as if she were on solid ground. Jon was unprepared for the barrage of blows she unleashed, her sword glinting in the moonlight. He parried a few strokes before he jumped backwards, landing on his hands and then completing the flip by leaping to his feet in an amazing backwards handspring. He pulled his gun from his holster and levelled it at her. The girl froze mid-stride.

“What did I tell you?” Jon said. “I’ll always win in the end.”

The girl grinned and began spinning her sword so fast it was no more than a blur.

“I dare you to shoot,” she retorted. “I dare you.”

She’d barely finished speaking before Jon let loose a frenzy of shots, each one easily deflected with a twang by the girl’s rotating blade. He stared for a moment, before stuffing the pistol back in its holster, the sword back in its sheath and plucking his hat from his head.

“Alright, I surrender,” he said, looking crestfallen.

Behind the wide black hat his fingers worked deftly with a piece of rope tied around his waist as a belt, the long red feather ruffling in the draft. The girl’s sword stopped spinning, but it was still raised in caution. She eyed him suspiciously, but didn’t notice the coil of rope drop silently to the beam. Jon’s bare feet set to work, trying knots in the rope as if his toes were fingers.

“Jon Piquet would never surrender,” she said, taking a step closer. Her eyes narrowed. “You’re not really him at all, are you?”

“Never underestimate Jon Piquet,” he said with a wave of his hat, before he jumped off the beam.

The girl gasped and stared down at the hay littered floor, but saw nothing. She whipped around, just in time for her mouth to be smothered and an arm wrapped around her waist.

“If you move and we fall, I won’t hold on,” Jon purred, leaning in close to her ear. “Now tell me, who are you?”

The girl raised an eyebrow and Jon slipped his hand to her cheek. She lashed out, trying to bite his ear, but he held her back.

“Now, now, don’t do that. It’s a simple question.”

She glared at him.

“I’m Aleena.”

“Pretty name,” he purred. “Now, what are you doing here?”

“None of your business.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“No? When do you consider it my business? After I let you fall to your death?”

She levelled a steely glower at him.

“It’s the best place to practice.”

“And you think it’s alright if you trespass in this man’s barn? What if he hears you, like I did? He already thinks there’s bandits around, which is why he hired me. He’d have shot you on sight.”

“I can look after myself,” she growled.

Jon tightened the arm around her waist.

“I suppose you could call this looking after yourself,” he said, giving her a cocky smile.

“You’re a prime example of why I’m not married,” she snarled. “Get off me.”

“Why, because your husband would be jealous? I suppose he would.”

He leapt from the beam, slinging her over his shoulder, and landed lithely on the ground. He slipped out the barn door and set her on the ground, keeping and arm around her back.

“Now, you’re free to go, but I suggest you don’t come back.”

“I’ll be back,” she hissed, pulling away.

“I hope you mean that you’ll be coming back to me,” Jon purred, fixing his hat upon his head and peering up at her from under the brim.

“In your dreams,” and with that she slipped away into the night.

Jon watched her go, his bare chest shining in the moonlight. She looked back once, and then she was gone.

“Well, well,” he sighed. “I suppose not all women are the same, but she’s certainly different.”

Nothing bothered him again that night.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Sword

The sword was fast, as was the woman holding it.

The best sword-fighter in the country was my opposition and she was a woman.

If I lost it would be with complete humiliation.

Not that I would necessarily be alive.

I ducked as a particularly deadly looking blow whistled over my head.

I made a cut at her leg, completing it with a spin as I came to stand straight.

She had dodged it easily and she delivered another sweep that knocked the sword from my hand.

I stared at her in disbelief and then pleadingly as I saw the evil glint in her eye.

Humiliation, then a funeral.