Friday, December 10, 2010

Fiction: Death’s Rose by Mark Smith

The echo of clashing steel sounded in Rose Alema’s ears as her father, Roberto Alema ushered her and the rest of the Alema family into his office. Terrified beyond belief, the twelve year-old girl ran to her father’s desk and hid under it, just as the door exploded. A dozen men in black chain mail, led by a horn helmed man flooded the room.

Rose saw the horn helmed man punch her father and yell at him. Rose was paralyzed as the man spoke. Adrenalin obscured her hearing, but whatever the statement was involved her older sister, who began to struggle. Without a second thought, Horn-Helm slashed at her neck, spilling her life’s essence into a ruby colored pool.

“Nina! You son of a bitch!”

Her father broke free of a man’s grip, and stabbed him in the chest with a hidden stiletto dagger. He picked up the dead man’s blade and ducked under the swing of another. Roberto cut down one more man before Horn-Helm plunged his blade into his stomach. As the life flowed from his abdomen, Roberto grabbed at horn helm’s neck, his fingers sliding down the man’s plate armor.

With an order, the men hacked away at the rest of the Alemas. The screams of Rose’s mother and sisters drowned out her own, until she screamed when horn helm walked to the desk.


The kill. What does it give us? For the one who avenges, it may give satisfaction. For those who kill for coin, it enables them to line their pockets. What does it do for those who kill for redemption, to make up for losing ones they love? What does it matter if they kill evil people? Will they be damned to roam the fiery planes of hell?

Will I?

Rose Alema shot up in her bed, cold sweat clinging to her skin. Her usually calm and cold blue eyes were red and hot with tears. She ran her hands through her raven colored hair and let out an exhausted sigh. A full moon shined in the sky, illuminating the bedroom. Rose looked at her nightstand and saw a solitary candle, still lit, only half an inch lower than it was when she first lit it. Rose got up from her bed and walked to the kitchen of her safe house.

For fifteen years, the massacre of her remained with twenty seven year old woman, plaguing her dreams night after night. On the a small wooden table in the kitchen, the blade that Rose used to carve through fifteen years of hardship, Soul Cutter, laid guarding a bottle of brandy, much like a sleeping dragon guarding its hoard. She sat at the table and took a rather liberal sip of the liquor. She breathed calmly as the drink weighed down her bloody memory.

It was this memory, coupled with the internal question of why Rose was allowed to live, that drove her to the blade. For ten years she has been known as Death’s Rose, master assassin, scourge of the dishonest and corrupt. Rose picked up her blade and ran her thumb over its pommel, a chunk of sapphire carved into a blooming rose.

“There’s no use in wasting a good night,” Rose said, sheathing her blade and walking to the armoire next to her bed.

Rose put on a green silk shirt, accompanied with an accentuating black bodice. She pulled on a pair of black breeches along with a weathered leather belt with several loops in it. Rose strapped a stiletto dagger to her lower leg, then put on flat, black leather boots. She strapped on a silver chocker, containing what many thought were five small coins. What they really were were the faces of five signet rings, each matched the one she wore on her ring finger. Rose tied her hair up in a pony, her scabbard to her belt, lock-pick bag, and walked over to her weapon wall. On this wall hung swords, axes, maces, pole-arms, and other various implements of bloodshed, all belonging to her slain targets. She took several throwing knives and placed them in the belt loops. She opened the door and walked out into the dark streets of Muskan.

Rose’s heels echoed down the quiet street as she walked down the cobblestone road. Time transformed Muskan since its ebony gates first opened. Once an epicenter of culture and wealth, the Muskan of late was a warped, corrupted place. Once the Great War was concluded, the focus of the country shifted to the newly gained lands in the east, prompting the migration of the majority of the city’s denizens.

This shift created a power vacuum that the criminal underworld was more than happy to fill. Well financed, silver tongued con men filled the seats of the of the city politicians and judicators. The merchant fleet, devoid of the checks and balances set forth by the policy makers, slowly formed into a pirating fleet. In order to accommodate the stolen goods the fleet brought in, the local merchants became skilled fences.

With these perversions of city and state, the assassin became a device to enforce civility and cohesion. For eight years, Rose has been a device.[Rose’s Head] She has been killing, retrieving and guarding for the corrupted city, in hopes of finding the person, or persons, responsible for her family’s massacre.

Rose’s heels echoed down the quiet street as she walked down the cobble road. The smell of salt water was strong in her nose as Rose passed the merchant corvettes floating at the dock. The docks provided numerous resting places for sea worn sailors, or inconspicuous lairs for shadowy killers. She made her way past several closed shops, and taverns emitting drunken song to the warehouse district.

Rose stood outside one of the warehouses, hidden in the shadows of an alley. Inside the warehouse in front of her was her quarry, a slaver named Eli Alaswari. From the information Rose gathered, Alaswari used his shipping company to traffic in flesh. The man provided manual labor slaves for wealthy customers, as well as a steady stream of sex slaves, fueled by the many orphans in Muskan’s streets. Alaswari’s deep pockets were known by many: a bribe to the wharf master, a round of free drinks to the city guard, and rumors of a rather generous stipend to a city councilman. Few, save whoever hired Rose, were brave enough to speak out against him.

Rose saw a sentry walk around the corner and slowly walked out of the shadows. While his back was turned, several dozen quick and silent steps brought Rose to him. With a glint of moonlight, Soul Cutter lashed out, cutting through the man’s neck. Rose dragged the body into an alley way and continued her approach to the warehouse.

The warehouse was surrounded on all sides by a ten foot tall iron fence, the only accessible point the main gate; which due to the large presence of guards, was not a possibility. The assassin’s eyes scanned for some area of weakness as she walked around the barrier. At the northwest corner, an area of the fence was cut away. Rose approached the convenient breach and found a discarded hack saw.

Someone else is here.

Ignoring the little voice inside her head telling her to turn around, Rose squeezed through the opening, entering the grounds of the warehouse. She sprinted to the side of the building, then skidded to a stop when she saw two men at the side door. Rose shot forward, a quick sleight launched two of her knives. One hit a guard in the throat, the other whizzed past the second’s head. The lack of accuracy was intentional, giving Rose ample time to draw Soul Cutter and gash open his chest. A quick punch to the throat stopped any exclamation from escaping his mouth. Rose sheathed her blade and took out her favorite pin and tumbler, pushing up the tumblers of the oak door’s lock with dextrous hands.

Rose pushed open the door and found herself in what appeared to be a store room. Sacks of grain were piled along the wall, sides of beef hung from the ceiling, and large kegs of ale filled the room. The assassin crept across the room to the door which she assumed led to the kitchen, and knelt down by the door. Drawing her last knife, Rose slid the blade under the door, and counted the reflections of three men, and one cook.

With a deep breath, Rose kicked open the door, surprising all four men. Her knife flew, burying into the farthest guard’s chest. She swung low with Soul Cutter, spilling the second man’s entrails on the floor, then tuned her low run into a roll, then slashed up at the last threat in the room. The third man, a more seasoned swordsman, already had his blade out, and blocked the attack. The two parried each other’s attacks, then the man swung hard. Rose ducked under the swing and sliced his hamstring in his left leg. A quick stomp on his neck shattered his trachea, then Rose turned to the cook.

“You are going to go into the storeroom and stay there until the screams stop. Do you understand?”

With a nod, the terrified cook ran into the storeroom and shut the door. Rose continued on, going down the hall. She thought to herself as she walked down the hall.

How many people had passed through this hall? How many girls lost their innocence, their childhood to the very man she came to kill? She thought back to the question she heard in her dream. This man did indeed deserve to die. It was her job, her calling to kill those who made a mockery of life. If she was doomed to hell for killing those evil people, then hell the devil would have his hands full when she got there. The sound of clashing steel interrupted Rose’s contemplations, and she took off running down to the door at the end of the hall. She kicked open the door and found two men clashing swords.

One, who Rose recognized as Alaswari, was dressed in gaudy yellow silk breeches and tunic and black leather boots. On his waste were the two scabbards for his twin red bladed scimitars. He wore an elaborate golden chain and pendent, as well as a yellow silk turban with a black feather standing erect from his forehead.

The second man was dressed more like a noble, but fought with more nimble and quick than Rose would have expected. This man wore a long sleeved navy shirt, black leather jerkin, long navy pants, and leather boots. His black hair was moist with sweat from the battle, but still maintained the neat style of the rich. His face seemed familiar to Rose, but she couldn’t put her finger on who he was.

“I will have my daughter back you flesh peddler!” the man said as he executed three lightening quick thrusts.

Rose noticed beyond them, in a holding cell was a girl that looked no older than sixteen.

“Frederico, she’s mine now. You should have kept a better eye on her, or trained her better.”

Frederico attacked, slashing and thrusting with the grace of an orchestral conductor, each time narrowly missing his opponent. Alaswari charged at Frederico, faked left, then dashed to the right. He stabbed at his foe’s right side, pushing a foot of his crimson colored scimitar’s three feet into his chest. Blood flowed from Frederico’s mouth as he fell to the ground, grabbing Alaswari’s collar and using the last of his life’s breath to curse the man. The girl let out a banshee shriek as her father fell, and began to sob heavily.

Dad cut down one more man before horn helm plunged his blade into his stomach. As the life flowed from his abdomen, he grabbed at horn helm’s neck, his fingers sliding down the man’s plate armor.

The memory of her father flashed back into existence, as if she was reliving it. Alaswari turned and saw Rose in the doorway, her blade already out.

“Ah, Rose Alema. I was wondering when we would cross paths.”

The voice brought Rose back to the now. With a smile, Rose did a mocking curtsey. “So this is what Eli Alaswari looks like. I have to say I thought a man with your means and access wouldn’t look like a nobleman’s flamboyant plaything.”

“Ah, her wit is as sharp as the blade she wields.” He noticed Rose’s eyes go to Frederico’s bleeding body. “Oh don’t mind him. Just a father who didn’t keep a closer eye on his daughter. Signore Deluna needed to learn the rule of finders keepers.”

“Deluna?” Then it hit Rose, the noble style, the nimble and graceful movements. “You killed Frederico Deluna, the city’s greatest thief.” The girl caught Rose’s attention. “I didn’t know he had a daughter.”

“Neither did I. So imagine my surprise when she was procured and she threatened me with his name, I thought I could profit from this occurrence. Deluna should have stuck with his lock pick and glass cutter. He’s not much of a killer.”

“Unfortunately for you, I am.”

Rose ran to Alaswari and slashed at his chest, but the agile man jumped back. Rose parried his attack, then brought her elbow forward, clipping his chin. She reversed her grip on Soul Cutter and swung low, for Alaswari’s stomach. He deflected it with his scimitar, but Rose’s blade managed to open a cut on his side. Rose leaped back, putting distance between her and Alaswari. He touched his side with two fingers, then brought the bloody fingers to his face.

“Ah, and she draws first blood. It is going to be a fun night,” he drew his other blade and crossed his arms above his head, making the curved blades look like horns.

Rose’s memory flashed back again. Alaswari turned into the horn helmed man. Frederico’s body turned to her father’s. She was paralyzed under the table as horn helm approached her. Her need for survival overrode her fear and she flashed back to reality. Alaswari was almost on top of her, sheer instinct made Rose leap back as the slaver slashed at her stomach. Alaswari quickly recovered and stabbed forward at Rose. She caught his arm between her arm and chest, and pulled breaking it. She uppercutted him, then drew her stiletto. She stabbed him in the bottom of his jaw, driving the tip through his soft and hard palate, and into his brain.

Rose let out a long, exhausted sigh and ran her hand through her hair. She picked up and sheathed the scimitars and tied them to her back. She looked at Alaswari’s hand and cut off his ring finger, which held his signet ring, and her proof of death. Rose turned to the girl in the cell and walked to the door. She picked the key up off the floor and unlocked the iron door. The girl looked up at Rose with glassy, fearful, honey colored eyes. Rose stepped out of the way when the girl bolted out of the cell to her father’s body. Rose looked at the black haired girl crying over her father’s body and saw herself fifteen years ago.

“What’s your name,” Rose asked the crying girl.

The girl stood up and took a deep breath. She wore a forest green blouse, black calf length pants with velvet slippers. She pushed her shoulder length black hair out of her face and looked at Rose. “My name is Jessa. Jessa Deluna, daughter of Frederico Deluna, master thief,” she said, holding back a sob.

Rose looked at the young girl in front of her. There’s no way she’d be able to survive on the streets of Muskan for long without the protection of her father. Rose barely was able to survive herself.

“I respected your father, so I will not leave his body here with the likes of Alaswari. I’ll help you bury him, and you can stay with me in the meantime, okay?”

Jessa nodded her head and followed Rose, and her father out of the warehouse. Two hours, and a very large bribe later, Rose and Jessa stood over the newly dug grave of Frederico Deluna. Rose put her arm around Jessa’s shoulders, who just stared at the tombstone. She looked up at Rose.

“I want revenge.”

Rose stared at her silently. “Against who? I killed Alaswari.”

“Against this city. They condoned him, and I want them to pay.”

“I know the road you want to take, believe me I know. It’s a difficult and bloody path that will kill some of who you are. If you absolutely sure you want to take this path then I will help you. There is one thing that bothers me. Your father was not a careless man. How did Alaswari get ahold of you? ”

“All I remember was a man in black armor, and a horned helm.”

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