In which we continue our serial tale. Romance blossoms on the streets of Riversmet, and an evil twin emerges to lay claim to the family business after the death of Uncle Joe under mysterious circumstances… or, alternately, we continue the story of Ioryssa, the killer she seeks, and the woman who hunts them both.
- Part 1 can be found here: Link!
- Part 2 can be found here: Link!
- Part 3 can be found here: Link!
- Part 4 can be found here: Link!
A Rooftop, Merywyn, Capital of Khador-Occupied Llael
Two Nights Later
Ioryssa shivered. It was the middle of the night. It was raining again. She was huddled under a dormer on a rooftop, colder than Nyssor’s nethers. Back in Ios, the cold was always crisp and dry. Nothing like this oppressive dampness. She pulled her coat tighter around herself and wished she’d brought a hat. The plan was going about as well as her plans usually did.
She’d been attacked out of nowhere and chased through the rain-slick streets of her city. She’d been accused of murder and espionage. She’d found out that her favourite informant was informing on her. Her name needed clearing, which meant finding the real culprit. And that meant some kind of plan. This was the best she’d come up with.
The killer had to be a Mage Hunter. So she probably wasn’t actually after Ioryssa. It was just a bad combination of time and place. The Hunter probably wouldn’t come after her directly, so Ioryssa would have to find her prey. Kerenov, the man who lived in the house across the street, was a likely possibility. He was a ‘Greylord’, a Khadoran wizard. The house had belonged to a Llaelese merchant, but the merchant was gone, and now the house was Kerenov’s. If there really was a Mage Hunter in Merywyn, she’d be paying Kerenov a visit sooner or later. It was her job. She probably even thought she was doing the right thing.
Ioryssa idly touched the tattoo beneath her eye. The mark of Lacyr, Narcissar of Ages. Once, Lacyr had been queen among the gods of Ios. Now, she was just one of the Vanished. Scyrah was the only deity left in Ios, Scyrah’s followers the only religion with any power. It was too bad they’d gone mad with it. Ioryssa’s finger pressed harder. Her teeth clenched. A rainy rooftop in Llael was still better than being in Ios these days. For someone with Ioryssa’s skill set, there would have only been one path for her to follow in Scyrah’s service.
They would have made her a Mage Hunter.
Ioryssa was no stranger to death, but she was an honest assassin. Out there in the dark there was a woman dedicated to the cause of holy murder, and there was nothing worse than a person who killed out of perceived righteousness. Ioryssa wouldn’t have anyone thinking that that was her.
She’d been there on the roof for hours. She’d stay there all night if she had to. That was the plan. Stake out the prey, find the Hunter, do what “Lizzie Bullets” hadn’t yet. Lizzie was fixated on Ioryssa herself, which had surely blinded her to other possibilities. Ioryssa closed her eyes for a moment and whispered a silent prayer to Whoever Was Listening that she was on the right track. That she wasn’t just an idiot.
On another rooftop, next-door to Kerenov’s stolen townhouse, something moved.
Ioryssa didn’t wait for it to slip away. Staying crouched, she scurried from her hiding place down to the edge of the roof. The street was empty. Carefully she lowered herself over the edge, dangling from the slick shingles. A few feet below, a faint creak rose from a wooden sign swinging in the wind. Ioryssa released the shingles and fell for an eternal moment. Then she drew even with the sign and frantically grasped at the metal bracket which supported it. She came to a stop with a sharp wrench in her battered shoulders. Her breath escaped in a long hiss. No time to be wounded. Her life and reputation were on the line.
She let go again, dropping from the sign to the street below. It wasn’t far, but it was enough to trigger sharp complaints in her bruised abdomen. She landed in a crouch to absorb the shock, then darted across the street. Time to be thankful for the rain. It kept the streets empty, and muffled the sound of her descent from anyone inside these buildings. She slipped into the alley directly across from her erstwhile perch. A couple buildings down from Kerenov’s house, on the opposite side from that flash of movement. She’d seen no sign of anyone, but they could well have seen her cross the street. Time to tread extra careful. She looked up.
No convenient ladders in this part of town. It would have to be a drainpipe.
Ioryssa sighed and started climbing. If this didn’t work out, she’d spend a lot of time trying to come up with a plan that didn’t involve her shoulders so much. They really, really hurt.
Rooftop coming up. Ioryssa braced herself with both feet firmly against the bricks in front of her. Slowly, slowly, ignoring the steady burning in every muscle, she edged her eyes up past the edge of the shingles. Clear. Abandoning stealth for the moment, Ioryssa scrambled onto the roof. Pressing herself against it, she crawled to the peak. Once again she peeped over the edge. She could see Kerenov’s roof from here, longer and higher than the surrounding houses and shops, with a number of ornate dormers like the roof where she’d hidden before.
Still no sign of motion.
It took several minutes for her to make her way to the roof of Kerenov’s house. Each time she had to crest the peak of a roof, each alley she had to leap she felt her heart seize. It was cold, it was raining and the streets were empty, so of course the roofs were empty. Ioryssa still felt horribly exposed. Somewhere out there was one of the most lethal killers in Western Immoren, and Ioryssa was trying to avoid her notice. She refused to be terrified. Being terrified wouldn’t help.
Pressed flat to the surface of Kerenov’s roof, Ioryssa climbed the shingles towards the nearest dormer. The roof was much steeper and taller than the others. It was slippery and treacherous. But Ioryssa hadn’t come this far just to fall off the damned roof when she got there. Reaching the window, she peered through. Dark inside. No telling what to expect. Carefully, carefully, she reached up her hand and gripped the bottom of the window pane. She pushed upwards. Locked. Of course it was locked. Ioryssa gritted her teeth and pushed harder, muscles straining against her wet clothes. Too few people these days appreciated the ‘breaking’ part of ‘breaking and entering’.
The lock gave with a sudden jerk. Ioryssa slid the pane up and open, then slipped inside.
Crouched, she scanned the room, allowing her eyes to adjust. She was on the third storey of the house. It was quiet. The open window behind her let in enough light to see a small bedroom, drapes thrown over all of the furniture. Kerenov wasn’t using this part of the house. The doorway bled a faint warm glow. Lamps were burning elsewhere in the house. As quietly as she could, Ioryssa slid the window closed and crept across the room.
Hallway. Running under the peak of the roof, from one end of the house to the other. Large windows at each end, letting in the moonlight. To her right, at the rear of the house, a staircase leading down. That’s where the warm orange light was coming from. Doorways opened into the hall from the other roof-level rooms, three on each side. Still no sign of movement.
Being here was probably really, really stupid.
Ioryssa scurried across the hall to the room opposite. She crept quickly to the window and stared out at the roof of the building next door. That’s where she’d seen the figure. Had they left? Were they still watching? Or had they broken in too?
If the Mage Hunter was in the house with her, what was Ioryssa supposed to do? Save Kerenov, or let him die as bait? What would satisfy Lizzie Bullets?
A small dark blob snuck into view above the ridge of the roof. Someone else was indeed watching the house. It was darker inside than out, so whoever it was shouldn’t be able to see Ioryssa past the reflections in the window. She stood up a bit, moving her face towards the glass. There could be a Retribution of Scyrah Mage Hunter right out there, right now. Ioryssa tensed for the fight of her life.
The figure rose up, and disappeared.
With a swirl of smoke and shadows, a person appeared in the small dormer bedroom beside Ioryssa. She immediately reached for her sword. Not a Mage Hunter at all, but a mage.
“Now, Ioryssa, surely you realize how bad this looks?” Lizzie Bullets’ voice dripped smugness from beneath the coalescing broad-brimmed hat. Ioryssa’s lips pulled back and her fist clenched instinctively at the tone. She was interrupted by an unfamiliar voice from the doorway behind her. Both women whirled. The voice wasn’t speaking Llaelese.
Ioryssa didn’t know Khadoran, but she didn’t need to. The gun levelled at them was clear enough.