Into the Fire
The Reejanon man came in the night, opened the great oak door of the Payson Manor and stepped into the marble foyer. A youthful Rayhalon guard was there, so the Reejanon showed him his servant tag.
"I am here to clean Lord Payson's office," he said, balancing the mop over his shoulder.
"Come this way," the guard said.
He followed the guard through the candle-lit corridor, up the stone steps, toward the office door. The soapy water in his bucket swished from one side to the other.
At the door the guard knocked.
"The cleaner is here, my Lord," the guard called in a clear, strong voice. "Shall I admit him?"
"Aye," Lord Payson replied from the other side.
The guard fished through his leather pocket for the key.
"You have until the last hour of the day," the guard warned. He inserted the key and turned it. The lock clicked. "After the last hour, I will come in for you."
"I understand," the Reejanon said. He steadied his grip on the metal bucket and the guard opened the office door.
The guard closed the door after the Reejanon passed through, crossed his arms and stood motionless in the light of the torch.
Minutes passed. Perhaps half an hour. The oak door opened, and the Reejanon stepped out with a wet mop in one hand, the bucket in the other. He carried with him the stench of smoke.
The guard nodded.
"Was the Lord smoking a pipe?" he asked, closing the door. He inserted the key. The lock clicked.
"No, sir." They proceeded toward the staircase. "The Lord had a strong fire brewing in the fireplace. It was wisethe night is cold."
The guard chuckled. "Indeed, it is," he said. "If only the Lord would grant his servants a bit of that warmth."
"No," the Reejanon said, resting the mop on his shoulder. "Lord Payson enjoys a warmth you would rather not share."
The guard raised an eyebrow, but said nothing further. He opened the great oak door, admitting a gust of cold air.
The Reejanon stepped out. There were traces of a smile on his pale face. The guard watched him go, watched him pass through the garden, and watched him show his slave tag to the night watch as they approached him. Then he closed the door.
The clock chimed the last hour, which meant the guard's shift had ended. He journeyed through the lonely corridor, marched up the stone stairs, and came to Lord Payson's door again.
"My Lord," he called. "My shift is over. I will be leaving now. Is there anything more you require?"
There was no answer. Candlelight flickered in the brief crevice under the door.
The guard knocked.
"My Lordis there something wrong?"
There was silence still.
The guard drew the key from his pocket and jammed it in. The lock snapped open and the guard whipped the door back. In his right hand he gripped the pommel of his sword as he stood before Lord Payson's desk, choking in the thick veil of smoke.
Lord Payson's body was still aflame. Fire had consumed most of his flesh. The eyes were charred away. The hair was a smoldering mess. He was still sitting in his chair, bone-thin and blackened arms gripping armrests.
"Murder!" the guard coughed. He threw the shudders open and screamed into the night. "Murder!"
Lord Ciman Nayton was huddled in the anonymity of his hood and cloak. Dran's Tavern was crawling with cut-throats and thieves, but it was the last place anyone might expect to find a member of Erlan's aristocracy or their high-strung informants.
The beaded doorway rattled and a blue-cloaked man stepped into the tavern. He proceeded past the bar, through the clouds of pipe smoke, and sat opposite Ciman without a hint of sound.
From the shadows of his own hood, Ciman gazed into the dark-blue eyes of the new arrival and noted the wrinkled, weather-worn skin with relief.
"I almost thought you wouldn't come, Morumlun."
Morumlun folded his hands on the table. "I would not miss this opportunity. What is it you have to tell me?"
"There has been a morbid development. Three aristocrats have been killed in their homes."
Morumlun raised his eyebrow.
"An assassin? Surely this is not uncommon in Rayhalon politics. How does it concern me?"
"A guard reported to have seen and spoken with the assassin." Ciman frowned. "He said the assassin had blonde hair and blue eyes."
Was it surprise or interest on Morumlun's shaded face? He lowered his eyebrow and paused.
"A Reejanon assassin? A man of my kind would need tremendous resources to commit such deeds."
"That is why I need your help."
"My help?" Morumlun asked. He leaned back. "I have fought your government for the last decade. This assassin is making good progresswhy should I stop him?"
Wasn't it obvious? The danger worked two ways.
"If you do nothing, there will be Reejanon blood on the streetsparanoia will transform into a murderous riot."
Morumlun's expression was blank, his mouth a thin and aged slit. He paused, staring at the table.
"You are right, Ciman." He lifted his gaze. "Was there a connection between these aristocrats?"
"They were members of the servant policy board, and Lord Payson was the board head. There are two members left aliveI hear Lord Jayvin has banned Reejanon servants from his home and office."
"What tools were used?"
"Each man was burnt to a cinder," Ciman said immediately. "We suspect the dead were doused with lantern oil, but the fire was too intense and did not spread through the room."
Again Morumlun paused. "This worries me deeply." There was an unusual sincerity in his statement.
"I have heard tales of Reejanon from the south who followed Firon, the Tuathan of fire. Their leader spouted fire upon his enemies from his hands."
A Reejanon witch? Unlikelydark magic only manifested in the Rayhalon breed. This was most likely remains of Reejanon paganism.
"I'll leave acts of Reejanon gods off my list of suspects," Ciman chuckled.
Morumlun remained impassive.
Silently Ciman cursed himself for being so cynical. Morumlun had deep religious convictionsit would take him some time to see the true way of Lahl.
Tempers flared in two Rayhalon men across the room. They pushed their plates aside and lunged at each other, knives drawn.
"Who has been informed?" Morumlun asked.
"The information rests with the Defense Council," Ciman said over the clamor. "General Ranin will decide a course of action tonight."
A crowd formed around the fight and the shouting intensified.
"The Enforcers will soon arrive," Morumlun said, standing. "I will have my informants watch for this assassinI fear he may be more than a man."
Lords and Ladies in gowns that glimmered in the torch light filtered in through the two side doors in proper order. They sat at their designated seats, chins poised and hands on their laps. They waited in silence for General Ranin's arrival.
Lord Ciman Nayton shifted in his high-backed chair. The page had called this an 'emergency meeting,' and Ciman feared there would be stiff and merciless action. Assassins were nothing new, but a Reejanon assassin would mean serious repercussions. An order of silence was issued by Prince Daremif the public were informed, there would be a mass hysteria that would lead to the slaughter of Reejanon servants. Silence benefited both the Rayhalon institution and Ciman.
The opposite door opened and General Ranin's personal guards stepped in. The occupants of the table stood.
General Ranin strode in and came to the end of the table.
"Sit down," he said, pulling out his chair.
The occupants of the table sat.
The General cleared his throat.
"As you all know, three brutal assassinations have taken place. I was just informed a fourth assassination took place only an hour ago. This must be stopped immediately." He turned to his aide. "Melvin, I'm authorizing the interrogations of all adult Reejanon servants. You will write a manifest of these lower citizens, and the Enforcers will be ordered to apprehend each man and woman on the list." He turned again, and faced Ciman.
"Lord Nayton, you are in charge of the Enforcer teams. You will bring the Reejanons to Lord Jayvin, who will be in charge of the interrogations."
There was movement outside the window.
"You will speak of this to no one other than those who sit in this room."
Lord Jayvin, a known facilitator of public opinion, sat up. "The citizens will surely question these actions."
Beyond the reflection of the chamber light, there were two eyes and a nose pressed against the other side of the window.
"Yes," Ranin agreed. "And you will say nothing."
"General!" Ciman pointed at the window. The face pulled away.
All heads turned.
The General gazed at the window. "What is it, Lord Nayton?"
"Forgive me, General," Ciman said. "I thought I saw someone."
"Must I remind you that we are on the fifth floor of the castle, above patrolled grounds?"
"No, General." Ciman stared at his own reflection in the glass. "I apologize for my outburst."
After the meeting, Lord Ciman Nayton was stopped in the corridor by High Priest Feneral Saymin and one of his aides. They were leaving the chamber beside the meeting room, and Feneral was smirking.
Ciman recognized the black, hollow look of the aide's eyes and swallowed deeply, clenching his teeth. "Your Eminence ... " He bowed low.
"Ah. Lord Nayton." Feneral grinned with thin white lips. "I see that while you are not courting my lovely daughter, you are tending to important business." His gaze twitched momentarily to the Lords and Ladies filing out of the meeting room. "Is there any news the Temple of Lahl might be privy to?"
"I am afraid not, your Eminence."
"Of course not." He grinned again. "Lahl be with you." Nose lifted, he stepped around Ciman and continued with his aide down the corridor.
In Morumlun's second level home within the lower district, Seetha, his wife, was dumping a stack of plates into the washing basin.
"I'm still not convinced he isn't one of Feneral's spies who pretend to be lenient toward the resistance ... "
Morumlun lowered his gaze to the floor. "We have been over this, Seetha. Lord Nayton has gained my trustand that is not easy."
Seetha turned her face from him, but Morumlun knew she was rolling her eyes. "What were you doing before you got home?" she asked, changing the subject.
"I had a meeting with my informants." Morumlun watched her carefully, crossing his arms. "I want to find out who is responsible for these assassinations."
Seetha dropped her plate and it shattered on the wooden floor. She turned on him. "You're going to try and stop it, aren't you?"
Morumlun was expressionless. "Yes. Is that wrong?"
"Did you" Seetha combed her hand through her hair. "Why? Whoever this is, he's doing our work for us."
"No. He is not."
"He's killing key members of the aristocracy," Seetha protested. "With them gone, the Expansion might stop for a time. Then, our people might be able to come togetherunify their Speirunshun and fight back!"
"Men with spears and wooden armor would never be a match for the Rayhalon military, Seetha ... " Morumlun took in a deep breath and drew her close to him. "The strength of the Rayhalon Dynasty comes from its people. As long as the people believe it is right to invade our homes and force us to work for them, it will happen. The murder of a few aristocrats will do nothing but spur hatred toward our people."
Anger fled from Seetha's face. She placed her hand on his wrinkled cheek.
"I wish I had your patience," she said.
Booted feet pounded onto the porch outside.
Seetha glanced toward the door. "What's going on?"
The door shattered and Rayhalon soldiers poured into the room. Lord Ciman Nayton stepped in and lowered his black hood. He exchanged glances with Morumlun.
"Seetha?" he asked.
Recognizing Lord Nayton, Seetha glared at Morumlun. "I am Seetha," she answered without looking.
"What is going on here?" Morumlun asked, watching Ciman.
"Seetha, you will come with us," Ciman said.
Seetha was pulled forward by both arms. "Where are you taking me?" she asked.
"You are to be interrogated," Ciman answered.
Soldiers held Morumlun back. "What for?" he demanded.
The soldiers filtered out of the room, taking Seetha with them.
"That is none of your concern," Ciman said.
Morumlun searched Ciman's eyes.
In the sun-lit chamber of Sun and Scents, a popular locale in the noble's district known for its aroma of herbal tea, Lady Saymin squabbled with her friends over the latest gossip.
"Your father has balls," proclaimed Lady Saran, sipping her tea.
The other ladies giggled. Lady Folman was turning red, overcome with amusement.
"Does shedoes she mean what I think she means?" Folman asked between her fits of giggling.
Lady Saran eyed Folman, tea cup pinched between her thumb and index finger.
"You'd better believe it."
Lady Saymin blinked. "Lady Folman!"
It was too late. Lady Folman turned bright red before she expelled her tea across the table in a fine mist. Tears streamed like rivers down her cheeks and smeared her powdered skin. "Forgive me, Lady Saymin," she sputtered between giggles.
Saymin frowned and waved a Reejanon servant girl to the table. The girl produced a fine white cloth and quickly dabbed at the spots of tea.
"Yes," Saymin went on. "My father is very ... brave."
Folman almost choked in her laughter.
Lady Versan stuffed another cookie into her mouth, chewed briefly, and swallowed. "When did your father make his declaration?"
"Just this morning," Saymin said. "He issued the order to the authorities of the temple before it became public."
"What order?" Lord Ciman Nayton stepped into the room.
Folman blinked, wiped the tears from her face and checked her bust. She stood with an air of prominence.
"Lord NaytonI am so humbled by your presence!" Delicately she curtseyed, making sure to bow low enough.
"Leave us," Ciman ordered.
The ladies put their tea down and scurried out of the room.
Saymin put her tea down.
"Do you think your position on the defense council grants you the right to dismiss my friends from tea?"
She was right, but it wasn't important now. "What proclamation did Feneral make?" Ciman asked, moving toward her.
Saymin frowned, rolling her eyes.
"As if you do not already know ... "
Ciman stared at her. Saymin sighed.
"He has declared a witch hunt. He said there is a Reejanon with the ability to breath fire, and that he practices ancient Reejanon rituals, and so on." She sipped her tea.
Ciman glared at the floor.
"Then it was Feneral's spy at the meeting," he muttered. "He must have used the window beside the meeting room.
"What was that?" Saymin asked.
"I have to stop this before it's too late," Ciman said, leaving the room.
Saymin sighed and turned away. She jumped.
High Priest Feneral Saymin and his servant were standing in the other doorway.
Saymin tried to chuckle. "Father, II didn't see you standing there. Would you care for some tea?"
Feneral shook his head. "No, my dear. Father has business to attend. With me, Corethun." He turned back into the corridor.
"Corethun," Feneral said to his servant, striding through the corridor. "Lord Nayton is becoming a nuisance. Contact our dark associateNayton must be silenced."
Morumlun sat on the roof of the gambling house and watched the lower district's horrors come to life with the setting of the sun. When the sky found its shade of depressing blue, the evening fires were lit and in flowed the crowds of beggars and lower races like cattle.
Fire was spreading. It started in daylight when members of Lahl's temple set their bounties for the Reejanon witch. It spread across the streets in the form of rumor and greedMorumlun had kept his hood over his face when he passed a local tavern keeper discussing with his wife turning in their Reejanon servant, claiming he was a witch.
Morumlun crouched by his rooftop garden and watched this fire burn outside his very home. The Rayhalon lower class were rallying beside the street.
"Find the witches," they chanted. They shook their fists, raised their torches. "Burn them. Burn them."
Morumlun turned his head and noted the young Reejanon male behind him. "Yes, Herilun? What is it?"
"You asked us to be watchful for a man who seemed out of place."
"And you have something to report?"
Herilun sat on the ledge. "Yes. My sister told me of a man in her servant's pen outside the Jayvin's estate she had not seen before. There was the tattoo of a flame on his lower stomach."
"Is this the pattern of the Jayvin house?"
Herilun shook his head. "The tattoo was of the old style."
"How did your sister find this tattoo?"
Herilun remained silent.
"Ah. I ... see." Morumlun gazed down at the forming crowds. "And he said nothing to her of his origin?"
Herilun looked over the ledge as well. "Nothing at all." The Rayhalons were gathering pieces of wood. "She said he was an evening servant. I saw him before the sun fell. He seemed peculiar."
"Can you lead me to his quarters?"
Herilun blinked. "Is that wise, Morumlun? Night has fallen, and even the lower district is a dangerous place for us to be."
Morumlun was bringing his hood over his head. "Take heed and rise. There is an extra cloak on the second floor."
Outside the abandoned gambling house the chaos had come to its climax. A Reejanon woman struggled in the mess of Rayhalon fanatics before an immense, churning fire.
Morumlun guided Herilun forward. "Come," he whispered. "There is nothing we can do for her."
The young woman's screams for help died among the chanting.
"Burn the witch," they shouted. They shook their fists.
The woman was shoved left and right and forward toward the burning pile. The last shove put her in the middle of the flames. Her dress caught on fire first, and then the fire slid up her body. Her arms flailed back and forth, and her wailing became more crooked with each passing moment.
"Move on," Morumlun croaked, horrified. "Move on."
The servant house was dark and silent as the street.
"Return home, now," Morumlun ordered. "I have placed you in enough danger."
"The streets are quiet, but there are Enforcers near," Herilun warned. "Are you sure you will be safe?"
"Go quickly," Morumlun urged.
Herilun stepped away into the shadows of an alley and Morumlun settled back behind a near wagon. He watched the house for over an hour until the front door opened and a bright-haired man stepped out.
Morumlun knelt on the other side of the wagon and watched the man proceed down the street. Morumlun followed, lurking in the corners, watching.
They approached the eastern gate. The man stood solid before the Rayhalon guards as they approached. The guards came into arm's reach of the man and he crouched. From each of his outstretched hands spurt a line of fire that consumed both guards and lit the street.
The man stepped over the fiery bodies and climbed to the watchtower where he turned the crank, opening the gate. He climbed down and stepped through into the dark fields beyond.
Carefully Morumlun pursued. Together, they left the shadowy walls of the city behind them.
Ciman was in his sitting room, losing his patience with a monk from the Farlin monastery. He frowned.
"How much will this cost?"
"The Farlin monastery would graciously accept a donation of two thousand gold pieces," the monk assured.
"Done." Two thousand gold pieces would do for a baron's ransom, or a small estate. Ciman was offering the monastery a temporary labor force numbering in the thousands. His frown persisted.
The monk pursed his lips. "Was there something else?" he asked, smiling.
"Yes." Ciman crossed his arms and stood. "I will need a method of transportation for these peoplesomething consistent and inconspicuous."
"Welltwo thousand Reejanons would not be easy to transport." The monk fidgeted.
Ciman smiled. "I'm sure two thousand gold pieces can be put to good use."
The monk watched Ciman, eyes seemingly pulled open. He gazed to the stone floor in thought.
"The monastery has a caravan that moves from Farlin to Erlan and back every three days, transporting supplies and members of the temple."
"Indeed. The monastery must run out of candles frequently." Ciman turned to the window. "How many passengers can the caravan take at a time?"
"One hundred men," the monk gave away with reluctance. "At most," he added.
"You will make the arrangements?"
"Of course, Lord Nayton," the monk bowed, maintaining his smile.
Loyalty among High Priest Feneral's constituents was laughable. With the insanity Feneral had caused with his Reejanon witch hunts, Ciman first suspected the monk would refuse his offer outright. Lahl's coffers were always open.
Ciman turned from the window. "I will speak with my people on this and meet you this afternoon at the temple after the first offering. We will secure our deal there with a down payment of five hundred pieces, and the next fifteen after the deal is complete."
"Only five hundred?"
"My risk in this is great," Ciman explained. "These Reejanons are from the lower district and will be difficult to transport."
"Lord Nayton!" Lady Saymin's voice echoed in the hall.
"Leave," Ciman instructed the monk. The monk started toward the hall, and Ciman turned him in the other direction. "Leave through the corridor so the Lady does not see you."
The monk stepped out.
"Who were you talking to?" Lady Saymin asked, stepping in. Her cheeks were wet with tears.
Ciman guided her in, eyebrows narrowed in concern. "I was finishing my morning prayer. What is the matter?"
Saymin gasped, and they settled onto a red couch. "It's my father. I overheard him speaking with another mana stranger. I think he wants this man to kill you ... "
Morumlun stepped through the forest. His pace was dwindling. The man was walking faster and Morumlun didn't want to catch his attention. Morumlun winced every time his foot crunched the dry leaves.
They came to a path that slithered through the moon-lit foliage. Morumlun stepped from tree to tree, momentarily finding cover before moving to the next hiding place. He peered around a tree trunk and tightened his grip on the dry bark.
The man was gone. There was no motion in the shadows between the trees, and there was no sound beside the crickets and the night birds.
Morumlun stepped into the open and turned in a full circle. He interrogated the black bushes and the tall grass with his eyes, kneeling in a crouch.
The bushes shuffled.
Morumlun turned and ran.
His assailants shouted in pursuit.
Leaves and branches whipped at Morumlun's face, but he ran faster. He sailed through the night air and his foot caught was in a tree root. He tumbled into the bushes.
Turning onto his side, Morumlun noted the spear heads pointed down upon him.
A few of the small huts had candles lit by the window, but most were black and silent. Morumlun was brought to the center of the community with no words from his captors. It was astounding how far within the kingdom this village thrived, and even more astounding how close it was to Erlan. Surely a Rayhalon patrol or brigade might have found it, unless they found an early death instead.
"Welcome, Morumlun," a man said, stepping into the yard. "I hope you are in good health?" He looked at Morumlun from the feet to the eyes.
"You know my name," Morumlun stated. Finding this man was too simple a taskMorumlun was being set up.
"I do." The man nodded and smiled. "I am Larovun, Tuathunshun of Firon." He turned to the others who had brought Morumlun in. "Leave us, Speirunshun. You've done your duty, now rest."
Firon was a Tuathun of fire, the Reejanon god of flames. He was chaotic, ruthless, and angry. Faintly Morumlun's stomach quivered, and he took a deep breath.
"Please." Loravun gestured to the hut. "Join me in my hut. There is much we must discuss."
There was no other option. While not on Morumlun's terms, this was what he wanteda confrontation, a resolution. He followed Loravun into the dim glow of the hut, noting the chair beside the door.
Loravun sat on the wicker chair, and Morumlun stood uneasily over him. Loravun gestured again: "Please. Sit. Be comfortable."
"I would rather not."
Loravun blinked. "Yes. Then I will tell you why I have brought you here." He settled back. "I've heard of you only recently, and I've never had the opportunity to meet a fellow Tuathunshun. I'm looking for an associatehave you seen my work?"
Morumlun crossed his arms. "No, I have not seen the bodies. But I have seen the results of your ... work."
Loravun's eyelids formed a thin slit.
"I have seen the riotsthe witch hunts," Morumlun continued. "Our people are being slaughtered because of your ... work."
Loravun chuckled. "You blame me for Rayhalon transgressions?" He leaned on an arm of the chair. "We have been enslaved for so long, and when I execute revenge, you take their side?"
"This is not a matter of sides." Morumlun noted the yellow flicker in Loravun's eyes. "Nor is it a matter of revenge. I will resist the Dynasty, but not in this way. It will only lead to further bloodshed."
Loravun's jaw quivered with impatience. His true nature was surfacing.
"You would change your mind if you knew the future."
"The future foretold by Firon." He nodded. "Firon has predicted our deathsthe deaths of all who do not strike openly at the followers of Lahl."
"You believe him?"
A wave of red flashed across Loravun's face. "I believe him. He has installed in me the power to destroy our oppressors, and I must use it."
"Because my Tuathun says to!" Loravun shouted. "He wants to protect my tribe and I."
"Firon is cruel, unpredictable and heartless," Morumlun said. "He cannot see the future before it has happened."
Loravun shook his head, mumbling. "Enough of this." He stood. "Will you aid me in my quest, or not?"
"I will not destroy everything I have worked for," Morumlun answered. Loravun's eyes flared with light, and Morumlun's stomach cringed. He noted the wooden table. "I will not join you."
The air sizzled with heat. Loravun made fists.
"If you won't join me, then you are my enemy. And as my enemy, you must burn!" He pushed forward with his arms.
Morumlun knocked the table over and ducked under. The wood crackled and was consumed in fresh yellow flames. He stood, and backed away to the door, stepped out, and propped the chair against it. Loravun pummeled the other side, shouting.
Morumlun stepped into the yard where a few men had gathered.
"What happened?" a man asked.
"I am afraid I dropped a candle," Morumlun informed. "Do not worry, Loravun is at the scribery. You should send someone to fetch him." Morumlun kept walking, headed for the trees.
"The scribery is closed at this hour," Morumlun heard behind him. "Open the door! Loravun is still inside!"
Before the threshold of trees, Morumlun turned.
They opened the hut door and a burst of flame urged them back. The hut was consumed, lighting the entire village.
Morumlun continued into the forest.
Ciman and Morumlun were at a shady table in Dran's Tavern discussing the latest events.
"You can guarantee that this Loravun is dead?" Ciman asked.
"Yes," Morumlun assured. "It is ironic that he should die by his own method of killing. And with his death, Reejanon tradition dictates that his followers will disperse. I only wonder who Firon will choose as his next representative."
More Reejanon myth. Ciman tried not to let his cynicism show.
"How is your wife?" he asked.
"Seetha? She is well, but she still complains of being locked in prison for the day. I must thank you for keeping her out of the interrogations."
"It was the least I could do."
"But now we are faced with a greater threat," Morumlun continued. "I cannot show my face in public without risking being beaten by the rioters."
"I believe there will be a tidy end to this ordeal."
The smirk remained on Ciman's face.
"I have an idea."
He licked his dried lips, looking up. It couldn't have been more than ten meters. He twirled the grapple vertically, let the rope slide through his hand and gain more speed, and let it loose. The grapple was flung high and landed on the wooden ledge above.
Hopefully the grapple had dug in enough. He tested it, pulling it taut, and it held firm. Hand after hand, he made the vertical walk up the wall and made it to Lord Nayton's window.
It was locked, of course. Bracing his lower arm on the ledge, he searched his sack with his other hand and found the glass cutter. He placed the apparatus on the window and traced a large circle, wincing at the sound it made.
He pushed the lower half of the circle in, then pulled out the glass plate. It was large enough for him to slip through. He pushed himself to waist level, leaned forward and slid head-first into the bed chamber.
It was still silent. He rolled onto the carpeted floor and stood on his padded feet. His gaze twitched from the door to the bed where Lord Nayton lay asleep. He slid the knife into his hand and approached, crouched like a feline with every careful step.
He settled over the Lord, squinted at the Nayton pattern tattooed on his forehead, and raised the knife.
His hand was caught by the wrist, and strong hands shoved him to the floor.
Lord Nayton sat up and lit the candle by his bed with the crack of flint and steel.
"Ah," he said. "You have arrived. Treat our guest with the proper respect."
The Reejanon jabbed the knife into the man's back.
Briefly the man gasped, and his eyes closed.
Lord Nayton gathered a leather sack from under the side table. He stood up and produced from the bag two vials with slips of cloth, each filled with dark oil. He smashed the first across the floor beside the dead man, and the second he tucked under the man's right arm. He placed the flint and steel in the right hand, stood back and crossed his arms.
"It seems our 'assassin' has found his end, and a Reejanon saved the day."
The Reejanon grinned.
"You've come to bring me news?" High Priest Feneral asked, sitting before the fire place.
"Yes," Corethun said, stepping further into the chamber. "Urgent news."
"Toss another timber into the fire, would you? Then stand to my left and relay this news."
Corethun obeyed, stepping carefully forward. He tossed the next timber in, and the fire crackled. Coming to Feneral's left side, he placed his hands behind his back.
"The fire witch has been stopped, your Eminence."
Feneral chuckled. "So soon? Has a time been arranged for the Reejanon's burning?"
"The man was Rayhalon, not Reejanon, your Eminence." Corethun swallowed. "He was killed on the Nayton estate. Vials of burning fluid were found on his person."
Feneral clutched his wine glass and tossed it at Corethun. The glass shattered on Corethun's forehead, and blood dribbled down his face.
Feneral's stomach cringed at the sight of the blood.
"Turn around!" Feneral shouted. "Or you'll be cleaning my dinner from the floor again." His skin turned pale.
Corethun faced the other direction, bleeding freely.
"It seems our dark associate has found an unfortunate end. Continue, Corethun."
"The riots have ended, your Eminence. With the discovery of a Rayhalon assassin, the general public is embarrassed by its actions."
"What of the testimony of the Payson guard? He said the assassin was a Reejanon."
Corethun swallowed again.
"General Ranin has dismissed the guard's testimony. The guard is known for his distaste of the Reejanon breed."
"Well, Corethun." Feneral licked his lips. "It seems your kind is safe, for now. You must be overjoyed."
Corethun shook his head. "No, your Eminence."
"Of course not!" Feneral gazed at the blazing fire for a moment, and his gaze fell to his fingernails. "Clean yourself up, Corethun, and fetch the polish. My nails have lost their sheen."
"Right away, your Eminence."
The Harrow: Original Works of Fantasy and Horror. ISSN: 1528-4271
The Harrow is published by THE HARROW PRESSSM