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Deathbird

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A knife appeared in her gloved hand, causing the target to pale. Sweat streamed off his face, but she didn’t move a muscle.

“I’ll do anything…” he whispered. “Please, I have a family. Children.”

Her gaze didn’t waver. It was not her job to respond to the target’s pleas, only to complete her assignment. She nodded and smiled. He returned it, a look of relief on his face.

“Thank you. I-…”

A knife in his throat halted any further speech. Casually, she withdrew it, wiping the scarlet blood on his suit. Her job was almost complete. Returning the knife to inside her dark jacket, she took out a small medallion and draped it around the target’s neck. It portrayed a bird in flight, wings outstretched. A raven, her trademark.

For centuries, the raven had been an omen of death. That fear slowly faded, but she brought it back, taking her very name from the bird. Ravyn Nightwing was not someone to be trifled with. Few ever got the chance to. She had no family, no acquaintances. Even her employer had never met the formidable woman. Only those unfortunate enough to count themselves as her targets ever got to gaze into the depths of her crystalline eyes.

An assassin. A deathbird.
~~~

A full moon shone in through the curtains of a high window, illuminating Ravyn’s path. Like a stalking panther, she moved through the hall, listening for any telltale sounds. Behind her, two guards lay slumped against the wall. It was a shame she didn’t have time to leave the medallion, but this was too precarious of a job to risk it.

A small noise caught her ear, and Ravyn froze. It was coming through the door to her immediate right and sounded a bit like crying. More silently than a shadow, she crept up to the wall and listened.

It took a few second for her to pick up the sound, a few precious seconds wasted. However, this could be it. Her employer had informed her that the targets would be in this wing of the massive residence.

Crying. Hushed whispers. Ravyn could not make out anything clear, but there was definitely someone in the room, perhaps two people. Something bothered her, however. She made no noise since entering the building, yet they were crying as if they knew their fate. Perhaps she missed one security camera. Ravyn shook her head. It didn’t matter now; they were as good as hers.

Silently, she tried the door. It was unlocked. Drawing a knife, Ravyn opened the door in one fluid movement.

A pair of eyes met her gaze from across the room. Instinctively, Ravyn scanned the area for possible exits, finding none. Just as well, for if one of the targets had tried to escape, they would have found a knife in their back very shortly. Immediately, she tried to block those thoughts. This was a delivery, after all. The targets must not be harmed.

“Who are you?”

Ravyn almost jumped at the sound, but regained her composure quickly. It was the voice of a child. Indeed, there were not one, but two children hidden amid blankets on the large bed. Their eyes bore into her own.

Ignoring the question, she turned to her own doubts. Children? Her employer never gave her children as targets before. Yet these two were the only ones where her employer told her she would find the targets. What did it mean?

The kids were by now very curious. They came out of the blankets enough for Ravyn to distinguish that they were a boy and girl, approximately nine years of age. Why children? What could her employer possibly want with them?

With a slight shake of her head, Ravyn tried to rid her mind of such thoughts. Her job was not to question, but to obey whatever instructions her employer left for her. And this time, her instructions entailed delivering both of these children.

“Are you looking for our parents?” The boy asked, a slight tremor in his voice.

Ravyn didn’t answer, she couldn’t. I must do my job, she told herself. Without speaking, she replaced the knife in her coat. Children provided no threat. Instead, she took out a small, silver instrument. The girl noticed.

“What’s that?”

Ravyn pulled the trigger twice. Any response she might have given would be lost on the ears of the two sedated children. Pushing all doubt out of her head, Ravyn set about to finish the job, withdrawing the apparatus. Her hand brought out a dark medallion. The deathbird succeeded once more.
~~~

Ravyn stood patiently, waiting for the signal to speak. An ache persisted in her back, but she did her best to ignore it. Now was time to focus. A successful delivery could mean a nice bonus once the children were completely turned over. Restlessly, her eyes roved across the room. It was small and white, without any decorations. The only furnishing was a loudspeaker mounted above a black, tinted window. She knew her employer was behind there, along with the children.

At that thought, Ravyn was reminded of her hesitation back at the jobsite. It puzzled her more than anything did. Countless times, she had pulled the trigger at point blank range. She couldn’t remember how often one of her knives found the throat of a target. Yet at the capturing, not killing, of two children, she almost went to pieces. None of the other jobs affected her this way before, so why now?

Grasping her hands behind her back, Ravyn stood a little straighter. None of that mattered now. Her employer was reviewing the targets and soon she would be gone, hopefully accompanied by a large check.

“Well done,” a mechanical voice said. Its harsh sound came from the loudspeaker. It was a bit unnerving being unable to see him, she never laid eyes on him before him, and it didn’t worry her unduly. His sort always kept their identity a secret.

“This is indeed the package I sent you for,” the voice continued.

Of course they are, Ravyn said to herself, you’ve been examining them for an hour. As soon as the thought entered her mind, she banished it. She had no right to be thinking such things about her employer.

She chanced a glance when two burly men carried the children out of the room where the examination had taken place. They were awake by now, and the boy was crying, while his sister only gazed around with a scared look. Ravyn felt a tug of pity for them, but pushed it back. What was wrong with her?

“Now, I have one more task for you,” the voice said.

Ravyn had a sinking feeling about this job. She completed the assignment, and it was done. Nothing like this had ever been asked of her before. “Yes, sir?” She said slowly.

“Kill them.”

It took a moment for the order to penetrate her mind. When it did, Ravyn could only gaze in astonishment at the window and then at the children.

“Why?” she asked, fighting to keep her voice even. “You’ve confirmed that this was a delivery assignment. Why didn’t you just ask me to take them out on the job?”

Ravyn held her breath. Generally, those in her career field did not question their superiors. At least, not if they wanted to see the next sunrise.

There was a sigh over the speaker. “I’m not used to explaining things, but you’ve been loyal to me all these years, so I think you have a right to know.”

Since when did her kind ever have a right to know? Ravyn was uneasy about it, but nodded.

“You see, good people in this business are hard to come by, and you’re one of the best. You’ve never failed at an assignment.”

Normally a complement like that would be welcomed, but Ravyn wasn’t sure where this was going. Moreover, she wasn’t sure she wanted to be there.

The voice continued, “However, there are always some doubts involved. I have assignments so delicate, yet important, that I wouldn’t trust them to anyone but my top agent. But, how do I know if they can handle it? So, I came up with a test years ago.”

She felt her heart sinking. No, surely he couldn’t mean…

“Those children will provide a threat if they are allowed to reach adulthood. This assignment was a delivery because I wanted to watch you in action. To see if you can handle the really hardcore jobs. Now, dispense of them.”

Was there some amusement in that voice? Ravyn didn’t find anything amusing about the situation. She couldn’t kill them, not in cold blood. They were only children, after all.

“Knock it off,” she whispered to herself. Why were these kids affecting her like this? It wasn’t at all the Ravyn she knew.

“Soon, if you please,” the voice urged.

Slowly, she took out a knife, her favorite one. She had used it on more assignments than she could count. Then, Ravyn turned towards the children and walked over to them. By now, they had figured out what was happening and the fear was evident in their faces. She wished she didn’t have to do this, but why she didn’t know.

The blade felt like ice in her hand. She brought it up to eyelevel with the girl. I don’t want to do this, Ravyn told herself. Then, what am I thinking? Get a get on yourself, girl!

“You’re going to kill us,” the little girl said. Her voice cracked with fear.

It halted Ravyn. She met the eyes of the girl and was lost in a sea of green. For some reason, she was compelled to nod. It was true, after all.

“Why? You don’t have to.”

Time stopped as she heard that, echoing through her mind. You don’t have to. But she did, it was her job. This was all she had ever known, her entire life. Of course she had to. However, some small part of Ravyn wasn’t convinced. You don’t have to. Had she ever asked herself that question? No, she only assumed that this was all she was, a trained killer. It was who she was. You don’t have to.

Ravyn tried to force the girl’s words out of her head to finish the job, but they haunted her repeatedly. You don’t have to. She was oblivious to everything happening around her. You don’t have to. Images flashed through her mind. Every face, every plea for mercy, every life she ever took rushed before her eyes. Memories she was trained to submerge burst forth, filling her head and bringing tears to her eyes. You don’t have to. The girl’s words wouldn’t leave her. She never had any regrets about her life, never. But…

I don’t have to. The thought rang clearly through her mind. I don’t have to, but I have, so many times. For the first time in her life, Ravyn felt it, a feeling deeper than sorrow, regret, or guilt. It tore at her soul. For a moment, she lost herself in the pain. Then, one thought resounded through her head. I can fix it.

With a jolt, Ravyn found herself staring into the girl’s eyes. For less than a second she hesitated. This was all she ever knew. However, her resolve won out. I can fix this. The sound of her employer caused her to turn from the children.

“Kill them now, and stop wasting time!” the speaker called out.

Ravyn looked back at the girl, still frozen with fear. Then, she smiled. With a deft hand, she drew back the knife and let it loose.

The children screamed, but they were soon drowned out by the sound of crackling electricity from the speaker where Ravyn’s knife lay buried. She looked at the tinted window, imagining what her ex-employer was doing. I will fix it.

“I’m sorry you two had to get involved in this,” Ravyn told the kids softly. Ignoring the sounds of guards rushing to the room they were in, she picked up the whimpering boy and grasped the girl’s hand. “Let’s get you home.”

Passing by the window, Ravyn paused. She saw the error of her ways, but he hadn’t. Perhaps the world would be better off dead. The girl tugged on her hand. No, Ravyn thought smiling, I don’t have to. Let someone else finish him off.
~~~

It was a gray morning. The dampness of the day seemed to cling to everything. Translucent mists wafted about the ground, showering the grass with dew. It was a day made for remembering.

The fountain stood in front of her, now tainted in her eyes by years of bloodshed. She stood a ways away, simply watching. What compelled her to visit this place of dark memories she didn’t know. The old Ravyn wouldn’t have cared about those memories, but she died over a week ago, gazing into the eyes of the little girl.

It took her this long to build up the courage to come to this place, unsure of what she was seeking. Perhaps it was a symbol she sought, or a sign to point her life in a new direction. For now, Ravyn felt lost. Her entire life was devoted to the art of killing others, and now she didn’t know what to do with it.

Impulsively, she reached inside her coat and pulled out a dark medallion, the last one. The raven, the deathbird, was her life.

A rustle of feathers caused her to look up. There, perched on the top of the fountain, was a raven. Revulsion filled her. This wasn’t the sign she was looking for. Rashly, Ravyn threw the medallion at the bird, the tears that filled her eyes making her miss.

It screeched loudly and took flight. Ravyn paid it no heed. She wiped her tears and turned to go, as lost as she was before coming. Maybe she couldn’t start a new life. Perhaps she was meant to be a killer.

A soft resonance sounded behind her, but Ravyn was afraid to turn. What horror did fate have in store for her next? Still, she looked back.

There, perched where the raven had been, was a brilliant, white bird, unlike any she had ever seen in the city. A dove. She was unable to move, captured by the sight of it. With gray eyes, it held her gaze before taking off into the rising sun.

Ravyn’s eyes followed the bird until it disappeared. Perhaps the past could be forgotten. Perhaps the deathbird could become a dove. After all, the day was only dawning.



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