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Blade of the Guardian (Chapter 1)

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In the silence and cover that the night provided me, I slipped undetected through the town. The moon was full, giving me just enough light to see by. At first, I had worried that I’d be seen because of the moonlight, but now I was glad for it. It allowed me to make swift progress without worrying about running face first into a wall.

All the residents were sleeping by this hour, so late at night. I heard the call of a lone coyote from somewhere on the outskirts of the town. A horse stamped its feet somewhere inside of a barn that I passed. I heard an owl shriek in the darkness behind me and jumped.

Angrily I shook myself, drawing in a deep breath. I could not be so jumpy. I would need all of my skills to get into the castle undetected. I couldn’t afford to be caught now. No, I had come way too far to allow my mission to be compromised.

My hand rested on the hilt of one of the long knives strapped into my belt. The set of knives had been a present to me several years ago when I agreed to be trained for this kind of work. There were two long ones strapped to my back, three smaller ones with varying widths strapped to my belt, and two small ones hidden on myself. I always carried the whole set with me. At first, they had been a cumbersome burden, but by now I moved as gracefully as a cat, and they only felt natural to me.

Tonight, I also had two vials of liquid poison, a handful of large matches that burned brightly as torches, a slingshot with special ammo that made a victim pass out, and an odd device that I had never used before. It was essentially a cross bow that was the size of the slingshot. It was used for close-range kills, but usually when I’m that close, I like to get up close and personal and finish a person off with my knives.

I managed to reach the castle walls without any problems. The castle was in the center of the town, and its wall was easily three times as high as the one around the town. Luckily, though, the wall wasn’t as smooth as it used to be.

Carefully, I chose a spot on the wall that was somewhat hidden from any of the night watch guards and had a house built right up against it. Then I stretched my arms and flexed my fingers and toes. When I felt I was ready, I grabbed the uneven stone and started to scale my way up the corner formed between the wall and the house.

The stone wall was freezing cold and sharp, while the house was made of caked clay and small chunks crumbled away where I used it for support. When I reached the top of the house, I grabbed onto the thatch roof and started to pull myself up. But I overestimated the strength of the old roof, and a whole two-foot section tore loose.

I fell back to the ground with a thud and a clatter from my knives. I cursed myself for my moment of clumsiness. How would I ever be able to succeed if I was not more careful?

I was picking myself up from the road as I heard a commotion start inside of the house. A man’s voice was exclaiming over the sudden appearance of the hole in the roof while someone else told him that they’d heard a sound outside on the street.

I barely spared a moment to glance at the part of the roof I had torn off, which had fallen a couple feet from me. Then I spun on my heels and silently ran back down the street, cursing the roof with my thoughts.

As I rounded the corner onto another street, I paused to listen. The door of the house slammed open and the man was shouting for whoever was out there to show themselves. He must have then seen the piece of the roof, because he paused. Then he started shouting out threats and curses to whatever thief, vagrant, or demon had done this evil to him.

But no one was there to hear. I quickly decided to leave him be and find another point of entrance into the castle. I continued on my silent way, running through the darkened streets around the wall. I stayed close to the houses, so as not to risk one of the guards spotting me.

Five minutes later, I found a particularly tall house that was next to the wall. The building next to it was a barn, and I could see the shape of a skylight cover on top of its roof.

I snuck around to the back of the barn, but there was no back door, so I was forced to go back onto the street. At the edge of the cobblestone road, I withdrew one of my knives from its sheath. This one was short, but had a wide and sturdy blade, so it wouldn’t break easily.

The road was old and crumbling like everything else in this town, which seemed to foreshadow that its reign should be coming to an end soon. I had to squint and bend over close to the ground in order to see the pattern of cracks that covered the road’s surface. When I found a crack that was close enough to the edge, I took my knife and rammed it into the crack.

The blade was short, but the road was thin, and I felt the tip penetrate the soft earth underneath the stone. I wiggled the blade back and forth until the section of stone came away from the rest of the road with a slight pop.

I resheathed my blade and picked up the rock. It was slightly larger than my hand, but it was the right size for what I needed it. I walked over to the barn door, which had several locks on one side and two hinges on the other.

I wished that there was a way to keep the rock quiet, but there wasn’t, and I didn’t have time to pick the locks. I raised the rock above my head, and whacked the bottom hinge as hard as I could. The sound echoed off of the close-together buildings and resounded in the quiet night.

Holding my breath, I waited, listening for sounds of someone waking up and coming to investigate the noise, but the town stayed silent. So I hit the battered hinge with the rock again, and the metal broke with a snap.
There was still no noise from the houses, but I was getting nervous. I readjusted the rock in my sweaty palms and then hit the top hinge until it broke as well.
I wondered at how the people in the houses had not heard anything when the noises of my vandalism were so loud in the streets. Were the walls that thick? Or did they sleep with clay in their ears? Or even worse, could he possibly know I was coming? Had he ordered that everyone stay inside tonight so that I’d come to him without a fight and then –
No. I would not think like that. I could not afford any distractions. I had to focus and just move towards that one goal of mine. I had to think of nothing else or I would get caught.
I carefully placed the rock back on the road and then forced the barn door to open. It did not swing like it would have had I left the hinges on. Instead, I had to force it open with my shoulder and then catch it before it fell out of the frame. I slipped inside and then wedged the door back into the frame. Then I turned around to look at the inside of the barn.
It was pitch dark and I could see nothing. It smelled like animal waste and hay and made me want to barf. I loathed the idea of waking whatever animals were inside, but I had to have light to find my way out to the top.
I lit one of my matches off of the door behind me, and the dim light lit up the area around me. To my left was a huge pile of hay, and further along the wall was a horse sleeping inside of its stall. To my right was a pen where three pigs were laying in their own slop, and past them was an area where about half a dozen chickens were roosting for the night. The rest of the walls were covered in shelves full of equipment. This building belonged on a farm, not in a town.
Tentatively, I walked to the center of the barn and looked up. I could see a second story built up inside the rafters, but I couldn’t see an easy way up there. I walked as silently as I could towards the back of the barn. The commotion these animals would make if disturbed from their sleep would wake up everyone on the block, no matter how thick their walls were.
There was a desk up against the back wall of the barn. As I walked up to it, something in the air changed. I heard a low growl starting to be made. My eyes darted around the barn, and quickly located the small dog hunched underneath the desk.
I immediately reached for a long knife with my free hand. The dog’s threatening growl changed into a dying whimper faster than my brain processed what I had just done. I half-heartedly cursed him for getting blood on my just recently-cleaned blade. Then I pulled the thing out of the bloody mess that was left of the dog’s carcass.
As I wiped the dog’s blood off on the ground, I looked at him more closely. I had always wanted a dog when I was younger – before I had given up my dream of ever being a normal person. Yet I had killed this one without a thought. How had I turned out to be like this?
But I had no time to wonder. As soon as my knife was bloodless, I put it back in the sheath on my back. My match had burnt itself out as I was doing this, so I pulled a second one out of my already-too-small store and lit it off of the desk.
I looked around again, but from here, on the other side of the horse’s stable, I could see a steep, wooden, spiraling staircase leading up to the second level. Without any more hesitation, I climbed up.
The steps were old and creaked underneath even my weight, but it did not wake the animals. When I got to the top, I saw that it was just a bunch of boards against the walls of the barn on top of the ceiling beams. To my dismay, there were about another dozen sleeping chickens in my way – not counting the rooster.
I cursed silently in my mind again. I cursed the chickens for sleeping there and the owners of the barn for having so many chickens, and then I cursed myself for coming in here in the first place and the man whose roof I’d ripped apart, and I cursed myself again for choosing that house. After this very unhealthy round of cursing, I returned my attention to getting onto the roof.
There was a small set of stairs on the other side of the barn. They led up to the center of the ceiling, where there was a door leading upwards. It seemed that I only had one option.
Painstakingly I carefully walked across the wooden beams, being as silent as I could and cursing silently whenever the wood creaked as I steeped around and over the sleeping poultry.
Eventually, I made my way to the stairs. There was a chicken sleeping at the very base, but the area was otherwise clear. I climbed up to the door, which had a latch, but luckily it was one that could be opened from the inside without a key. I quietly opened it and stuck my head out to see the roof. I blew out my match and let it drop to the barn floor below as I looked around.
The barn roof was not made of thatch, but of wood and tiles. Next to the barn was the tall house, which had a window ledge I could jump to from the barn roof, but it would wake up anyone inside. From the ledge, I could make it to the roof and then scale the rest of the way up the wall and over the top. But I needed a distraction for the people inside.
I frowned as the only idea I could think of presented itself to me. It wasn’t as entirely safe and had the potential to cause more problems than it fixed, but I saw no other solution. So I climbed back down into the barn and looked at the chicken sleeping at my feet. Carefully, I moved around it and lined it up with the spot where I believed the rooster was. Then I kicked it as hard as I could.
The poor chicken went flying across the barn, cackling and screaming its head off. I heard the sound of feathers as it hit another chicken and they both fell screaming into the dark barn below. This noise woke up the other animals right away. The other chickens started clucking and squalling and some of them broke out into flight, probably flying into one another or the walls in the darkness. The pigs started squealing and running around their pen, and the horse was having a panic attack, whinnying and by the sound of it, kicking the door of its stall. I might as well have loosed a pack of wolves in there for all the noise they were making.
I heard shouting from outside and quietly climbed back up onto the roof, but staying on my stomach to make myself as least visible as possible.
The people inside the house and the next few houses around started shouting and were all clambering to get outside. I could see movement through the window as two people ran out of the room and down the steps. I saw the three figures run out of the house and to the barn. One of them must have been a woman, from the high-pitched voice I heard yelling at one of the other two to get the keys and open the door. As soon as they were standing directly outside of the door, I stood up and ran across the roof. My feet were less than quiet, but all the noise from the animals must have drowned out the sound.
At the edge of the roof, I leapt across the empty space between the buildings and slammed into the window as I landed on the window ledge. The glass cracked under the impact and I nearly fell off, but I managed to catch myself in time.

I didn’t stop to catch my breath until I had climbed up onto the roof. There, out of sight from the ground, I gasped for breath and felt awful. I had come all this way, and now all this trouble, but I still hadn’t gotten inside of the wall! I wanted nothing more right then than to curl up into a ball and return to the days of my childhood, and let myself cry.
But as I sat up and started to hug myself, my fingers passed over the rough patch of skin on my arm that was the form of a scar. The thought of the scar made me remember how I got it; and that made me remember why I was here.
With my determination restored, I took a deep breath and stood up. I could rest when this was over. I strode quickly to where the roof brushed up against the wall. The house was tall, but it was barely half as tall as the wall.
I tried to see if there were any guards on top of the wall, but I could see nothing like that from this angle. So I decided just to chance it and be ready to fight whatever I found at the top.
I grabbed the wall and began to climb. I used whatever handhold or foothold I could find, but it was precarious and exhausting work. One false move and I was as good as dead.
But somehow, I made it to the top of the wall. My hands and feet were cut and bloody from the sharp surface, but I had made it to the top.
As soon as I pulled myself over the top, I flattened myself down on the pathway and looked around. There should have been guards up there, but there weren’t. Something wasn’t right.
Even though I smelled a trap as clearly as one can smell freshly-baked bread, I continued onwards. I didn’t stay cautious as I should have. I even walked down the steps into the courtyard in order to evoke a meeting with some unfortunate guard, but I did not see a single soul.

Once I was inside the courtyard, it was even easier to get inside the castle. All I had to do was go inside through one of the servant doors in the kitchen. No one was up at this hour, and I was free to roam through the cold stone hallways without any opposition.

I found my way into the throne room, where I found the entrance a maze of servant passageways hidden behind a tapestry. Everything in me was screaming that this whole setup was some type of elaborate trap, but I pressed onwards.

After nearly half an hour of wandering aimlessly through the tight passageways, I heard voices echoing through it. One of them I recognized.

It took me a while to find the room where the voices where emanating from, but I did it.

I didn’t enter the room, by I dropped onto the ground and lifted the bottom of the tapestry ever so slightly – just enough for me to peak through.

The room beyond was smaller than the throne room, but still larger than the whole house I had grown up in. It was lit with torches on the wall, and two people stood in the center arguing. I didn’t know who the second man was – all I could see of them were their feet, but he must have had a very high position for him to even utter a word against the king and not have his head chopped off right away.

Carefully, I pulled the crossbow device out of my belt and loaded it. Then I lifted the tapestry’s edge up more until I could see the first person – the king – the man – nay, the monster – I had come to kill.

With all my skill, I took aim at the back of his neck. Some things that I knew about this man: he always wore some sort of armor, so firing at his chest would be unsuccessful; and I’d have to kill him in one shot or be killed myself. So I aimed at his neck. Even though I was no skilled archer, it would be easy to kill him at this short range.

Slowly, I wound up the rope on the bow, preparing to fire and rid the world of his cruelty. I was ready to fire; I aimed again at his neck as he continued to yell at the man with him. It would only take one shot: either it would pierce his spine and paralyze him from the neck down, making it easy to finish him off; or it would go through his throat and kill him anyways.

My finger tensed, preparing to pull the trigger and do what I had to.

But suddenly, the other man was in my way. He was standing between me and the king. “No! Move you idiot!” I was screaming inside my head, but he didn’t move. I was trying to find a different angle that I might be able to land a hit to the king, but I couldn’t find anything.

Then the other man apologized to the king and bowed to him. Had I kept my bow trained on his neck, I would have been able to shoot him through the throat in that one instant, but the man stood up again too fast for me to reposition myself.

Then he smiled and the two walked out of the room, and my chance was gone. I sat up, cursing the man with every curse under the moon and sun. I could have ended this!

I punched the wall and cursed some more. Then I managed to clear my mind. I was still in the castle, and I would have other chances. But for now, I needed to find somewhere that I could hide and not be discovered until then. I wondered through the passages until I found a storage room that looked as if it would not be disturbed for a while. I settled down behind a pile of crates to rest. I had already come so far for this, but there was still so far to go. But there’s one thing that I knew: I could not afford to fail.

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