Best Served Cold (A short story)

Recently I had to write a short story for my writing classes.  I had, of course, been looking forward to this assignment all school year.  The story was based on a one-shot I had written two to three years ago, and was one of my favorite descriptive pieces.  The opening is that one-shot, lightly edited.

Anyway, knowing I desperately needed content for this exact blog, I decided to post it here.  My limit for this story was 8-10 pages in MLA format, my final draft was 11.  Haha oops.  I could have gone longer, let’s just make that clear.  It’s not perfect, nothing ever is, but I’m pretty happy with it overall.

Here it is! Enjoy. 🙂

~*~

Had the men been sober, they would have surely felt the chill of the stone courtyard. But they weren’t, and they didn’t. Before them lay an abundance of food: meat, rum, fruit, bread. Anything they desired, they simply called for a servant to bring to them. Their drunken laughter resounded off the surrounding pillars, frequently accompanied with a ridiculous toast of some sort. Had they been sober, perhaps they could have saved their lives. But they weren’t, and they couldn’t.

Hidden in the shadows, a cloaked figure stood, invisible except for the exposed, glowingly pale skin. The build of the uninvited guest was thin, and if one wished to know the gender, they would have to get a clear view of the figure’s face to understand it was male. His head, covered in a heavy hood, was lifted just enough for the green and yellow eyes to easily watch the oblivious men, still drinking heavily. In the figure’s slender hand hung a twisted and tarnished dagger. Perhaps once it had been silver and straight, but now it represented its master, a sad remnant of what it used to be.

The time to strike would not be until the men were far past tipsy. When they would be so long gone they would scarcely be aware of their surroundings.

He did not have to wait much longer. Minutes later, the first man sat upright in his seat, wobbling slightly, eyes not truly seeing, before his face fell forward, landing in the pile of gnawed bones and bread crusts on the platter before him. Had his companions been even a little more aware of their surroundings, they would have laughed heartily at his unconscious state. Instead, they quickly followed suit, succumbing to the influence of the rum.

The cloaked figure tensed in anticipation, but held himself back, waiting for his ears to confirm what his eyes already told him. Soon enough, the soft snores were audible in the otherwise silent courtyard.

Quickly, quietly, like a shadow, the hooded figure darted towards the slumping men. The knife, though tarnished, still glinted wickedly in the light of the setting sun as it was lifted above each man’s skull. His pale hand made a swift downwards movement, the razor-sharp blade sliding into the back of the first man’s head. A spurt of blood sprung from the fresh wound, a gurgling sound emitting from the fresh corpse. The first eliminated, the cloaked figure moved to the next two, killing them just as quickly as the first.

Before he could leave, the quiet yet clear sound of female footfalls echoed in the courtyard. There was a shrill scream of terror followed immediately by a thunderous crash as the maid dropped whatever she carried. The pale one lifted his head, giving the maid full view of his white face, causing hers to to go almost as void of color as his. Her breath caught in her throat as she stumbled back, landing heavily on the cold, tiled floor. Her gaze fell to cooling bodies of what had once been her employers. When she looked back up, eyes bulging and heart racing, he’d vanished. Gone like smoke in the night.

The assassin was not even slightly troubled by the idea that he could be chased down. The maid had seen him, and though she could not know his face, she must have exactly who he was: Bane, the most skilled and feared assassin of the great Wizard, Alastor. Having this job for almost 150 years makes one quite well known, despite attempts to keep identities hushed.

Bane traveled for seven days before finally reaching his hut, hidden away deep in the largest known forest. Filled with the dangers of the wild, animals, quicksand, and even others like Bane, visitors were unheard of here.

Bane entered his small, round hut through a rough-hewn door. The only dim light came from two small, opposing windows. Pushed to one side was an unmade cot. Near the door stood a large wardrobe, which Bane went to. A single spare cloak and an extra pair of leather boots was the only attire that resided there. Shelves lined the sides, filled with every kind of weapon known to man.

Bane hung up his cloak and placed his knife in its usual place before crossing the room. On the opposite wall was a curious sight. An array of names and the occasional sketch of a man or woman littered the wall, connected by dirty threads. There were roughly fifty or so altogether. At the top were four portraits from which all names and sketches flowed. The entire top half, including the portraits, and a select few of the lower half, had a single line crossing through each. One entire section fanning from one portrait had a line. Bane picked up a fresh quill from the desk underneath the four family trees. Dipping it into the inkwell that sat next to it, he made a neat line through a name in the lower half.

“One more of those scumbags gone,” Bane growled to himself, dropping the quill and stepping away.

A raven flew in the window, a meager, dirty scroll clenched in its beak. It gave Bane a distasteful look as he stepped closer, and childishly wouldn’t let go of the scroll until Bane threatened to break its leg. The wax seal on the outside bore the Wizard’s mark.

Bane quickly scanned the message in the scroll.

Bane, as I’m sure you know, your third fifty-year contract is due to end in two years. I know you have yet to finish the mission that led you to me almost 150 years ago, so I assume you’ll want to renew before you die in two years time. In the meantime, there is a man I need killed. 

The rest of the message gave details about where Bane could find this man. It did not say why. Bane didn’t need to know. Bane did as he was told, and got his fifty years of life in return. What Bane did with his years outside of killing for Alastor was of no concern to the Wizard.

Bane scribbled a quick message on a piece of scrap parchment, and tossed it carelessly to the raven. The bird squawked angrily, snapped up the message, and vigorously flapped out the same window it had come through.

As soon as it was gone, a knock came on the door.

“Come in,” the assassin called, glancing eagerly to the wall of names. A tall, lanky man stepped through the doorway, a scroll of his own clenched in his fist. One of Bane’s own employees.

“Bane, I have news,” the man rumbled in a voice surprisingly deep for a man of his build. Bane did not speak, his expression one of mild interest. “I have located another descendant of the murderers that killed your family.”

“I killed the last one you gave me a week ago. You’re finding them quicker than you used to. Good.” The man grinned in relief at the small amount of praise Bane gave him. “So where is he?”

“A small town fifty miles East from the border of the woods. It’s a man and his family. One of the descendants of the ringleaders, actually. They’re extremely prosperous and influential. It won’t be hard finding them. But it might be a problem finding the perfect time to kill them all.”

“I’ll decide that,” Bane snapped, cutting him off. “Just give me the scroll and get out.” Bane pulled a gold coin from underneath his cot and tossed it to the spy. The scroll was set on the desk, and the man was gone.
Two weeks later, Bane was on his way to Wallsworth, the town spelled out in the scroll. Strapped to his back was a quiver of arrows and bow, and on his hip hung his trusty knife.

His first step was to find the house of the man. It was a rich town, prosperous in the trade of their fine, golden wheat. All the buildings were finely built. According to the scroll his spy had given him, the home he was looking for was in the North of the town.

It was an unusual hunt. This man was not only unusually wealthy and well-loved by the  townspeople, but he also had a healthy family of a wife, two sons, and a daughter, all still living with their parents.

Bane could not deny that he was slightly disturbed at the age range. Normally he hunted those who were at least twenty, yet the scroll told him the oldest child, the daughter, was seventeen.

That’s the same age I was when my own family…

Bane immediately pushed aside that thought. Emotions had never gotten in the way of his job before, he refused to let it start now. If he eliminated this family, the entire bloodline would be halted. He’d be down to only two. This was a job that had to be done.

Food wasn’t really necessary for Bane. When one is guaranteed life in return for kills, food becomes a luxury that isn’t required. Food always brought back painful memories of his mother’s cooking, which Bane preferred to push down. Bane immediately went to the nearby wood and found a perfect tree far off the beaten path where he could curl up under for the few days he planned to stay. He’d need the time for scoping out the perfect time to do his work.

“Hello?”

Bane jerked up from his lying position under his makeshift shelter. His hand immediately went to the knife on his hip, but he did not move from his spot or call out.

“Um, I see you under there,” the voice called out again, this time distinctly female. “What are you doing out here? There are inns just a short walk down the road. Can you not afford one? I can offer you some money if you can’t.”

Soft footfalls signaled the girl was coming closer to where Bane hid. Seeing as she was persistent, Bane crawled from his small shelter, trying to hold on to his dignity. As soon as he caught sight of her, his heart skipped a beat. It was the daughter, the daughter who he had every intention of slaughtering along with her father and brothers.

His first instinct was to kill her now and get it over with, and then her family before they realized she was missing and got the whole town looking for her. But he held himself back, forcing himself to think about it first.
“What’re you doing out here, anyway?” The girl’s glowing red hair fell in beautiful waves over one shoulder. Her figure was clothed in a clean, white dress, and on her arm hung a basket half filled with wild mushrooms and flowers. Her posture and innocence reminded Bane of his own sister, and it was as if someone had stabbed the assassin in the heart.

Bane did not answer, staring her down with the hopes that his intimidating appearance would frighten her off. But it did not seem to be working. She simply stared at him with curious blue eyes.

“Do you need food? Or perhaps a place to stay?” His lack of response did not seem to throw her off. On the contrary, the more he refused to answer her, the more determined she was to get one out of him.

“I don’t need your help,” Bane finally growled, when the girl made no move to leave.

“I’m Clyta,” said the girl, extending her hand in a friendly manner. “What’s your name?”

Bane just barely jumped when Clyta offered her hand, and made no move to accept it.

“No name? That’s okay. Are you staying long?”

“No longer than I must.”

“Well, I’ll be back tomorrow then.  I guess I’ll find you or I won’t.” Clyta smiled, turned, and left, her footfalls almost as quiet as the assassin’s. Bane could not find it in him to even bark at her to never return.

Sure enough, the next day, she was back. Bane had spent the afternoon scoping out the town, learning patterns and places. He had seen her there, handing out bread to a collection of the poor that lined the streets. This time, she bore more than just flowers and mushrooms. In fact, she was at his makeshift shelter before he was, a small fire cooking a small meal of mushrooms and meat, a fresh loaf of bread sitting nearby.

“I noticed you had no food,” she said cheerily, giving him a smile he knew he didn’t deserve. “So I brought some from my house. I hope you don’t mind.”

Bane remained sullen and did not answer, instead shooting her a glare and sliding into his shelter. He caught himself watching her several times, her movements vaguely reminding him of how his mother used to cook.  Clyta finished her work, placed all the food on the wooden platter she had brought, packed up her things, and left with a simple “Enjoy! I’ll be back tomorrow!”

Bane at first had no desire to even look at the food, but the enticing aroma of fresh meat finally made his mouth water. It was his first meal in decades.

The next day she was there again when he got back. She did not cook this time, but seemed noticeably pleased that she had found the empty platter lying on the ground. This time she had bread and cold meat, enough for the two of them. She offered Bane some, which he sullenly left where she had set it, then took her own and began eating and talking.

She told him about her brothers, how she knew they would grow up to be great hunters. How her father had poured a fourth of his wealth into making this town beautiful, how her mother had taught her to care for those less fortunate than herself.

“My ancestors were not good people, I’m sorry to say,” Clyta murmured with a sigh. “My father has done his best to make up for it. He’s quite ashamed, I think.” She looked at Bane with a only slightly forced smile. “What about you? What’s your family like?”

Bane did not answer for a moment, weighing his words.  Something about this girl made his walls begin to crack, and before he could stop it, the words came tumbling out. “My family… They’re all dead. They were captured and sold into slavery while I was off selling my father’s corn and my mother’s cloth at the market. I got back to find my home burned, and my parents and sister gone. When I finally caught up to them, my sister had been beaten to death, my father shot for attacking a guard, and my mother sold across the sea.”

Clyta froze, even halting her chewing. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “That’s truly awful. How long ago?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Bane snarled, his hand closing into a fist. “They’re gone now, and I have to go on without them.”

They sat in silence for several minutes, each pondering their own thoughts.

“I’d better go,” Clyta finally said, getting to her feet and slowly packing up her things. “Again, I’m really sorry about your family. I can’t even imagine…” She turned to go, but Bane stopped her.

“My name,” Bane hesitated. Clyta patiently waited. “My name is Bane.”

A small, almost sad smile crept onto Clyta’s face. “Nice to meet you, Bane.” And she left.

That night, Bane made a decision. Clyta was starting to get to him. He had barely known the girl two days and already he could feel his edge starting to dull. He had to attack, tonight.

A shadow in the dark, Bane crept into town. Not a single soul noticed him, even when he climbed the wall to get into the courtyard of Clyta’s family.

First to go would have to be the father. Bane found him in a sitting room, quietly reading a book with a smoking cigar held loosely between his lips.

Bane lifted the glass window that separated the two of them. Years of practice made this task easy and silent. Soon, he was posed behind the man, knife raised in hand. He stood there for several seconds too long.  For some reason he could not make himself thrust his knife. The man still did not notice him, at least not until Clyta stepped through the doorway.

“Father, excuse me for interrupting, but—“ she immediately broke off when she saw Bane standing behind her father. She let out a terrible scream and rushed forwards. Bane stumbled back, his knife dropping slightly. Later he would tell himself it was because he was caught off guard, though he knew that wasn’t true. The man finally noticed the killer in his home. He jumped from his chair, grabbing a heavy book from one of the nearby tables as if that could defend him.

“Who are you?” he barked, grabbing his daughter’s wrist and trying to tug her behind him. Bane didn’t answer, his sickly yellow and green eyes filled with some sort of unusual expression as he stared at Clyta.

“Bane,” Clyta cried, wrenching her wrist from her father’s hold and stepping closer to the assassin. “Why are you doing this?” Her tone suddenly dropped, as if speaking to a frightened and dangerous animal. “I thought we were… friends?”

Bane had no intention of telling Clyta his motives when he had gone into this job, but now, staring at her tear-filled, glassy eyes, he found himself explaining it to her.

With bitter words, Bane told her. “Your ancestors killed my family. We are not friends.”

“That’s impossible,” Clyta tried to reason with him. “You’re hardly much older than I am.”

Bane snorted. “I made a deal with the Wizard Alastor. He gives me years and I kill anyone he asks me to. When I’m not doing his bidding, I spend my years hunting the people who murdered my family. I am much, much older than seventeen.”

Clyta’s mouth hung slightly ajar as she stared at him in disbelief. “I understand that you’re angry about your family, and you have a right to be. But we didn’t do it.”

“Clyta!” Her father yelled. “Get back from him! He’s dangerous.”

“Perhaps,” Clyta murmured. “Bane,” she said, speaking louder. “If you want to kill my family, you have to start with me first.” Both of them ignored her father as he kept insisting she get back.

Bane did not move. Flashes of memories darted through his mind. His father, protecting his sister and teaching Bane to do the same.  His mother, beautiful and gentle. His sister, playful and kind.  Bane himself, before he turned into this… this thing. He used to be happy, eager, even forgiving.

Clyta’s voice turned gentle. “Please, I know you’re better than this.”

Bane snapped his eyes up to look at her, the hardness returning. “You don’t know anything about me.” In a flash of black cloth, he had leapt out the window and disappeared.

No one knows what happened to Bane. No one knows if he went back to Alastor to renew his deal, or if he continued his hunt for other decedents of the men who killed his family. There was still a deadly assassin in the land, killing and causing unrest, but no one could know for sure if it was Bane.  We do know one thing, though. Clyta and her family were never in danger from then on.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s