The air was chilly, but that was to be expected in the long dark hours of a springtime night. The assassin crouched low on the roofs of one of dozens of abandoned buildings as she waited for her prey to come into view. A slim silver dirk was held ready in one hand, while the other rested gently on the rooftop. Her eyes searched the abandoned village below, her vision able to detect detail even with only the slim moonlight shining in the sky.
Even if she had not been able to see, Akitis knew Delt’Ini like one of her own handcrafted knives. The village had been deserted almost overnight, the terrified humans fleeing with the onset of the vampire clan. Slaughter and death still reeked in the streets, although the massacre had occurred some several decades ago. Delt’Ini, the capital of the vampire nation in this region… and therefore the town with the most promising bounties for an assassin such as Akitis.
While her senses were kept focused on the road below, she allowed herself a brief moment of entertainment. Would she have been able to claim sanctuary in this town, had she not killed so many vampires who had hidden here? She was, after all, at least partially related, but she suspected her bits of humanity would have prevented it. That, or her reputation as the Shadowknives assassin: cold, cruel, selfish and backstabbing, and the absolute power of the crime world. The Shadowknives was the creature that scared vampires into locking their doors, and kept the werewolves and the demons from leaving telltale trails. The Shadowknives was a ghost, and all who had caught her eye were the same: alone one minute, dead the next, a signature blade buried in the corpse.
Akitis loved it. She had worked very hard to become the crime lord, the best of the best, and she intended to keep it that way. What passed for a ruling body, a council called the Poison Blade, tried to keep her in check by paying her for bounties, but sooner or later they would run out of gold… and Akitis was more than happy to be paid with their blood. She had very carefully started the rumors of the Shadowknives, never using her true name and never, ever revealing her true nature to anyone. Those who became too curious quickly disappeared, turned into examples of how not to treat such a power-hungry assassin with the skills of a vampire and the mind of a murderer.
Most importantly, no one knew Akitis’ truth. Assassins had no fear: fear was weakness and weakness was death. The Shadowknives had no fear. Akitis, however, had one fear, and it never missed an opportunity to get inside her head. Lucky for her, it seemed tonight would be a quiet night – no damned whispers crawling inside her head, demanding to be let out.
Her target had still not shown himself… the weakling. Akitis had thought he would at least have had the courtesy to pretend to fight, but it seemed having a bounty on his head had just made him cower away instead. Akitis plopped her chin into her palm and sighed in irritation. Come on, she thought, you’re not worth enough to keep monopolizing my time. Her eyes flicked to the sky. The moon was still not even half-full, so chasing werewolves was out, and there weren’t likely to be any around Delt’Ini, anyway.
A darting motion in the streetway below pulled Akitis’ gaze back to the job. She could see him clearly, even in the dark night, and grinned. Finally, her target had shown himself. She watched him scan the rooftops and doorways around him, but Akitis, dressed in all black and still as stone, knew he would never see her. Vampire senses were very good, but looking for a shadow in a street full of shadows was useless.
Two more vampires entered the alleyway. Akitis’ eyes narrowed slightly. Dailon, the mark, should have been alone. He had a price on his head offered by high members of Delt’Ini – what were two of the city vamps doing here with him?
“Are you crazy, Dailon?” A thin voice, no real strength behind it. Probably belonged to the smaller vampire, a woman who apparently actually cared about this Dailon character, Akitis analyzed. Tactically, no threat whatsoever.
“I’ve got to go. If the Shadowknives is after me, I’ll be dead if I don’t get out of here.” This voice obviously belonged to Dailon. He sounded fairly strong, but pathetically scared. Akitis resisted the urge to roll her eyes. This was looking less and less interesting by the second.
“Dailon, you know what you’re saying, don’t you?” This voice was deep and male, and carried a fair bit of power behind it. This vampire had probably seen a few good fights before. “Or haven’t you heard the stories about the Shadowknives?”
This perked Akitis’ interest. Storytime about the Shadowknives was always good fun.
The girl spoke again. “She’s crazy, Dailon.” Apparently, the girl was in love with that word.
She continued. “You had to have heard the stories or you wouldn’t be running away. But she’s a monster! No one gets away from her!”
“A monster, maybe, but I’m more confident about running than I am getting trapped somewhere and getting pinned by her,” Dailon replied.
“Listen to the girl, Dailon,” Deep Voice said. “The Shadowknives isn’t just some hunter after you. The Shadowknives is like one of the devils of Hell.” His voice quieted. “Think about it, Dailon. She is a vampire and yet not. People have sworn to have killed her, and yet here she remains, alive and killing anything she can. How can you outrun an immortal devil?”
Akitis laughed silently. These two actually had some of their facts straight, but a devil? Akitis found it difficult enough being what she was; if devil got thrown into the mix, she doubted even she would be able to handle it. Although, I certainly have a devil’s mark, she thought, her good mood evaporating. All three of these vampires would die tonight, she decided, and Akitis planned to make them scream. Maybe then she’d feel better.
Quietly, she drew another, shorter blade to complement her dirk and leapt from the roof. She landed silently behind the three targets, put on an eerie smile, and whistled.
Dailon and his friends whipped around, their eyes wide in surprise and then fear. “You… you’re here,” Dailon gulped. “The Shadowknives?”
Akitis’ blue-black hair was still twisting a little in the breeze. “The one and only. I came here just for you, Dailon, but aren’t you happy? Your friends well get to meet me, too.”
Dailon swallowed nervously but attempted to sound firm. “They have nothing to do with this.”
Akitis laughed. “Does it look like I care?” she answered. “And please don’t ask me to let them go. I’ve heard that one so many times.”
Dailon closed his mouth with a frown. “No heartbeat?” he asked. “So you really are a vampire? Why do you kill so many of your kin?”
Akitis abruptly stopped laughing and glared at Dailon. “You’re too nosy for your own good, Dailon,” she warned. “Aren’t you going to beg for your life right about now?”
“But why don’t you smell like a vampire?” Dailon continued. “It’s almost… human.” He stared at her. “What are you?”
Akitis whipped the smaller blade at Dailon’s heart. “I am an assassin, idiot,” she snapped. “And you are dead.”
Dailon jumped aside, but not quickly enough. The silver blade still found its mark deep in his side. He crouched over, howling at the burn from the silver metal.
The other two vampires attacked together; Akitis guessed that they had performed this maneuver before. The man lashed out with big fists, intending to smash in Akitis’ face, while the girl jumped around to the side of the assassin and closed in, fangs bared.
Akitis gritted her teeth, letting her own fangs show. The dirk she used to fend off Deep Voice’s attack, slashing at his knuckles until they were dripping red. Her other hand went to her belt, where a host of other blades awaited their turn for battle. Her fingers landed on a dagger with an orange tinged blade.
The girl’s jaw closed around Akitis’ neck just as she pulled the knife free.
The girl had drawn blood. Now Akitis was really angry. She swung the knife low and buried it to the hilt in the girl’s gut, hissing.
The girl pulled herself away from the assassin, her fangs dark with Akitis’ blood. For a second her mouth hung wide and silent, and then the screaming began. She clawed at the knife hilt, but the entire weapon gave off the heat of glowing coals, searing her from the inside out.
Deep Voice growled in anger. “What have you done to Imie?” he cried.
Akitis took the dirk and leveled it across her face. With a lightning-fast slash, she severed the vampire’s throat, letting his blood gush out onto the dark street. Smoke rose up from the wound where the silver blade had struck. The vampire choked and sputtered for a moment, then fell dead onto the stone street.
Akitis walked calmly over to where Dailon had landed. The knife lay on the street beside him and his hand was clenched to the wound, but the silver had done its work. The poison had tainted a large portion of his blood, both that still inside his body and that which oozed onto the street as well.
“Black… blood,” he commented, panting for breath. “You really are… a devil, Shadowknives.”
Akitis did not respond. Instead, she took her dirk and cut a deep gouge into Dailon’s other side. The vampire could not survive with such extensive wounds and soon expired. Even dead, his eyes seemed focused on Akitis in a kind of horrified stare.
Akitis ignored it and retrieved her weapons, wiping them clean on Deep Voice’s tunic. Then she collected the important trophies of the evening: the medallions that belonged to the three vampires. Dailon’s medallion would be the proof she needed to get her payment, and if there was any money on either of the other two, she would be able to claim that, as well.
None of them were particularly interesting. Akitis had seen plenty of medallions in her lifetime… one from each vampire, werewolf, or otherwise non-human creature that roamed this earth. They were created at the moment of a Turning, when the Dark Magic of the unnatural fused with the victim’s blood and created the new creature. Each medallion was unique, and the only way to acquire one that was not bound in your blood was to kill the owner and take it.
She traced the letters on the back of the medallion with a finger. All three had the same word etched into the metal: VAMPIRE. She had forgotten the look of the language, not having looked at a medallion this close in quite some time. Other than her own, that is… and it was considerably different from these three.
The wind shifted slightly and Akitis huffed. Swiftly she picked up her blades and returned them to their sheaths, tested the bite wound the girl vamp had landed, and swore lightly. It had closed quickly, as Akitis had known it would, but spatters of the black blood still colored the road’s surface. A booted foot scuffed the drops into oblivion so that anything that felt like following Dailon’s killer wouldn’t be able to track Akitis that way. As though anyone would come after her to avenge Dailon. The vampire claimed to have been a mercenary, and even a good one, but Akitis wasn’t impressed. He’d been just like every other thing she’d fought – maybe even more of a coward.
“Well, that’s just annoying,” said a smooth voice from the shadows near the end of the road.
Akitis did not move. To show surprise would have instantly weakened her position. Better to let the speaker think she had already been aware – and unconcerned by – their appearance. “What, the blood? I’m sorry… I didn’t know anyone still washed these streets.”
“Amusing.” The voice was definitely female. From the accent, she was either high-born or very old, or both. Her tone was deep and rich and held more humor than Akitis thought was merited by the situation.
Stripped down, the woman’s voice merely said that she was full of herself and was trying to get Akitis under her heel before the assassin realized she had nothing to fear. Akitis frowned in annoyance.
“Trying to decide what I’m like?” the voice asked mildly. “Let me help you along: you’re wrong.”
Akitis laughed harshly. “You telling me you’re a mind-reader, then?” she retorted. “I’ll decide whatever I damn well please.”
“Why in the nine hells would I possibly want to read your mind, little assassin?” the woman responded. “I’m sure there’s nothing of interest in there.”
“If you’re so sure I’ve got nothing to match you, why are you still hiding in the shadows? Even a leech like Dailon faced me. Hate to think what that makes you.” Akitis twirled one dagger between her fingers idly.
“Are you really trying to taunt me out of hiding? You are so unoriginal.”
Akitis flashed a wide grin, letting the moonlight gleam across her sharp white fangs. She leapt up a solid twenty feet, letting two knives fly into the darkness even as she landed in a crouch on the roof of a nearby building.
Something long and wickedly reflective caught the thin light and threw it back in Akitis’ eyes. At the same time, she heard two sharp metallic clangs followed by slightly softer clunks. The woman had a weapon, and she had deflected both knives.
“Sneaky little assassin,” she purred. “Are you sure you are ready to play with me?”
Akitis’ pride burned.
“Come on, little fighter. My swords will drink your blood faster than you can bleed it.”
The wind curled again and Akitis realized something odd about the street. It was much too quiet. No soft thumps of a heartbeat, no quiet flutters of breath. “Are the vampires so loyal that they’ll avenge even turncoats like Dailon?” she asked.
“Avenge?” She laughed. It was rich and dark and proud. “I was going to hire the fool, but if even a fledgling little vampire assassin could take him down… I almost owe you thanks for sparing me the coin.”
Akitis’ laugh was much darker, more sinister, and full of malice. “Wrong guess, vamp,” she said. “I’m not your kin.”
There was an interested sort of hum. “Indeed? No heartbeat, white fangs, strength and speed beyond that of a normal human, I would assume you to be lying if not for the pride dripping from your words.”
Akitis waited while the woman puzzled it out. It never got old.
Except she didn’t end up in startled surprise, or horror. “There is enough evidence to put you in the vampire blood, but you say this is wrong. With death at your heels and the knives you wield, you must be the Shadowknives. It seems the stories about you are somewhat… cloudy on the details of your true nature. Thank you for clarifying.” She stepped sideways into the dim light on the street, a longsword resting casually against her shoulder. There was a second one still in its sheath on her back. She lifted her eyes to Akitis and smiled. “Care to dance?”