After a longer hiatus than I would've liked, I'm back to semi-regular updates on the site. The story below is my entry for this week's Chuck Wendig flashfiction challenge, which challenged writers to pen stories completely in the present tense. This entry is set in the world of the Eighth Age, a low fantasy setting where spies and assassin's play just as large a role as mages and kings in the power struggles of the land. You can also check out The Last of the Silver Brotherhood, another story set in the Eighth Age.
As always please to enjoy and make sure to read the other entries for this week's challenge.
It's nighttime in the city of Sceptre. Thick black clouds conceal the moon and stars. The crackle cry of thunder rings out in the night and barely a second later the rain flooded down like a vast sea is spilling out of the heavens above. The sounds of the storm, echoing through the cramped city streets, can't quite mask the fall of footsteps upon cobblestone. To those who pay keen attention, two sets of footsteps are to be heard. Someone is being followed.
Omen Altier, knight of the Royal Order of Ashenia, hears the footsteps behind him and goes over his options. He could turn around, force a confrontation. But just killing the pursuer would leave him to dispose of the body. He knows of several places in the city he could hide it but none where it would stay hidden for long.
He slows down, just to be absolutely certain, and hears the pursuer's pace decrease to match his own.
Who could it be? the young knight wonders. The Order has many enemies in the royal city. For some their hatred runs hot and deep, so much so that the man following him now could be not only a spy but an assassin.
Omen turns left into the winding labyrinthe of the city narrows. He passes from strong mortar houses to flimsy wood and brick insulae packed four or five stories tall, into a slum so tightly packed that the streets are barely wide enough for one person to walk through. He heads south, to Daler's Forum, as the pursuer follows.
He's good, whoever he is, Omen thinks. Perhaps it's someone else from the Order, sent to spy on him, to track his movements, maybe even to...
He pushes those thoughts from his mind. He can't afford idle speculation. Not now at least.
It takes him a few minutes to realize it's stopped raining just as quickly as it had started.
He emerges from the narrows and into the market forum. It's deserted with empty stalls that hint at their daytime wares and goods. He spares a glance over his shoulder, sees that the pursuer is just making his way into the market. The pursuer's face is hiddent by a grey traveler's cloak and hood. Omen assumes he's a local by the way he kept up in the narrows. The clouds part for just a moment and let the moonlight illuminate where they stand. The pursuer slows and stops as he sees that Omen's noticed him now. He draws a dagger from his belt.
So an assassin then. Omen knows what he has to do. He turns and runs. The assassin follows. Both know the game now, thought only one of them is playing by the rules. Omen turns a corner and almost runs into a group of drunkards stumbling out from a pub. His body, almost possessed of its own will through years of training, pivots to the right and manages to completely side step them without losing speed. From the bustle and cursing he hears a second later the assassin isn't so lucky. It's not much, but it does buy Omen the few extra moments he needs. He passes two more streets then ducks into an alleyway. He runs his hands along the walls, quickly but without hurry, until his fingers find the ridges. Though it's hard to tell to those who don't know, a crude ladder's been carved into the stone wall here. The assassin might be local, but the Order has its own presence in the royal city and they've made certain to mold this place for their needs.
Omen climbs the ladder in the wall and reaches the rooftops just as the assassin bursts into the alley. He looks around, confused, a moment ago so certain that he'd cornered his target. Omen watches as the assassin doubles back and circles the area trying to re-capture the chase. Finally he turns back, no doubt returning to report his failure to whomever sent him out this night. Omen follows him now, shadowing from above. The young knight's going to find out who hired this assassin and why.
The hunter's become the hunted, the pursuer the pursued and dawn is still far off in the city of Sceptre.