Despite the sun’s absence, the day’s heat continued to infest the city as if some great hearthstone burned unseen. Saja and Lucendes strode through the alleys of the Tanner’s District, guided by the light of the moon. The streets still held a host of denizens, but the peddlers had gone home and the craft shops had closed. The only hint of commerce remaining came from the jovial chatter spilling from the district’s alehouses, and on occasion, from the moans of pleasure emanating from the shadows.
It’d taken Khouri the afternoon to prepare the summoning totem—a lock of Saja’s hair tied around a garnet-encrusted glass medallion, steeped in an unction of oils—and Lucendes had used the time to set his plan in motion. He’d returned to the augur’s house wearing a loose robe of green over his shirt and trousers. It hid the half-dozen daggers he now carried. To Saja, he’d given a small knife, and its weight at her hip felt strange, like an unwanted reminder of the bond between them.
As they crossed a star-shaped plaza at the convergence of several streets, three men in similar green robes joined them. Saja regarded the men, then peered into the shadows. “Only three?” she asked.
“Our strike needs to be fast,” said Lucendes. “Too much commotion and the Seers will send the city guard. They watch the city from above, like falcons circling, but with Magi enhanced eyes. It is how the Sultan keeps his peace.” He pulled his lips tight, not quite the grin he wore earlier in the day. “But don’t worry, we have all the strength we need.” Saja thought of the totem he’d tucked beneath his shirt, and nodded.
The assassins marched on in silence, each knowing what was expected of them. Saja’s heart battered her ribs so hard, she thought they’d shatter. For her sake, she hoped these other men were as good as Lucendes. She concentrated on taking deep breaths, trying to keep her mind from the bloodletting to come.
Thankfully, she didn’t have to wait long. Two of the assassins peeled off from the group as soon they turned down a narrow street lined with sandstone buildings. They quickly disappeared into the darkness, and when Saja stared after them, Lucendes slapped her rump.
She spun on him, raising a hand to strike him back. But he caught her wrist and wrapped his other arm around her shoulder. Laughing loudly, he leaned into her as if they were an amorous couple returning from an evening out. The remaining assassin dropped back, giving them space.
Saja fumed but went along with the ruse. Lucendes led them down the street in a slow procession, chortling and babbling nonsense. He tapped at Saja’s shoulder as they went, and at first she thought he was trying to get her attention. But then she realized: he’s counting!
They approached a storehouse flanked by a pair of taller buildings. In its center, a pair of double doors stood open, but guarded by a half-dozen men.
Lucendes stopped tapping.
“The lookouts are dead,” he said. “Now it is our turn.” He strode toward the guards, leaving Saja behind. The other assassin joined him, pulling two long knives from his robe. The men at the door started and fell into a line behind a brawny thug. Some of those in back glanced warily up and down the street, but the leader glared at Lucendes.
“The Blessed One sends his greetings,” said the assassin.
The thug spat. He raised a hand, as if to make a threatening gesture. Instead, he gurgled and dropped to his knees, a dagger sprouting from his throat.
Lucendes and his companion rushed forward, blades flashing silver in the night. The minions of the Horned Man recovered from their shock and met the assassins with cudgels and staves.
Wood cracked against stone and metal whooshed through the air. Two of the guards fell before Lucendes, as he spun and stuck with his dancer’s grace. He was not a snake, Saja thought, watching him, he was some sly cat of the desert.
He flung a dagger at another of the guards, catching the man in the thigh, then turned toward Saja. “Come!” he barked.
Saja clamped her teeth together, to keep her gut from spewing out, and hurried forward. By the time she’d reached him, he’d swung shut one of the doors and was pushing hard against the other. His companion battled against the remaining guards, slashing and hacking like a madman, forcing them into the street.
“Get inside,” said Lucendes. Saja ducked into a massive foyer lit by a pair of braziers. Footsteps clapped across the tile floor from the far side, where a score of the Horned Man’s thugs raced toward them.
Lucendes slammed the door shut behind Saja. She opened her mouth to scream, but it’d long since gone dry. “Lucendes,” was all she was able to gasp.
…to be continued
Originally published in Pulp Empire Volume IV.
© Craig Comer