The rooftops of Timoritia were a fine place to watch a rising sun. Off the main streets, towards the river that ran through the city, you could raise your head, and see nothing but the clouds, reflecting from below the bright warm colours of a day that, if Rafe understood it right, had come from a part of the world where maybe things were a bit brighter. Knees up against his chest, feet flat on the slope of the roof, his elbows resting on his knees, cheek on his arms, the worst murderer in Timoritia kept circling a question in his mind.
Next to him, Aderyn sat, far more primly. Feet flat, knees up, her arms tucked in under her chest, looking not up at the clouds, but across at the street. She, unlike Rafe, was looking for a particular detail – picking out the people in the streets. Brown heads, grey and brown and yellow shirts and tunics, cheap but not too cheap. She’d been watching for minutes, trying to find the bright blue cap of Mr Bauer, as he made his way towards Parcel Street and the first sales of the day.
Normally, Aderyn planned escape routes with some plasticity. Alarms were raised, typically, and it was very strange that Praefoco hadn’t begun by yelling for guards. After all, Aderyn had just killed Cameo Tully right in front of him. And she was an Assassin, which meant nobody really expected her to kill anyone. After all, Tully was an assassin, too, and he hadn’t exactly been known for a body count. Killing them both and escaping was relatively easy, with almost no pursuit from guards.
She knew that wouldn’t work twice, though. Anonymity or professionalism were the typical protections of an Assassin, and she only had a limited quantity of either to use.
Still, she did have that question to ask Rafe.
“Y’know-“ He started.
“I wonder-“ She began.
An awkward pause, and a clearing of throats. “Srry.” Rafe grumbled. “You go?” he managed, gesturing with one hand, a circular motion like he was turning a wheel.
“Well, I was wondering… why do they call you the worst murderer in all of Timoritia?”
Nobody with eyes that blue, with a face that pure, should be asking a question like that. Rafe was even more jarred when his memory threw up the image of those exact same eyes, with that same unflinching expression, looked up at a window at him with someone else’s blood running down her forehead and over one eye, like some sort of Hadrian warpaint. “B’cause I’m not very good at it.” He managed.
“You know, I rather think that’s a dreadful lie.” Aderyn responded. Why wasn’t she blinking?
“Well…” Rafe shuffled a little on the tiles, squirming uncomfortably. “Just got lucky with Praefoco and the window.”
“You punched through a window hard enough to break the metal strut in the centre of it and grab a man one-handed, haul him off his feet and impale him through one of the toughest parts of his body on a stout metal spike faster than he could scream. I absolutely have to admire the efficiency.”
Rafe blinked, and then, finally, Aderyn did, too – with an almost agonising slowness.
“And what’s more,” she continued, “You didn’t cut your hand on the way in. That’s very rare. Most of the time when people break windows, there are loose shards of glass that fall back, or the pane itself. It seems very strange that you managed that.”
Rafe looked down at his hand, and thought about it. Eventually, he spoke. “You have to make your hand small and push with all of y’weight. You break the pane in the middle and hold your hand through it while the glass falls. Do it confidently and tense up th’hand and like, none of the glass cuts you. You do it hard and all the glass is small, you see?”
“And the metal strut?”
“It was pretty old. Looked worn.”
“That’s an awfully observant thing to see. You notice a lot about windows!” she said, smiling at him. It was a compliment, it was shaped like a compliment, but for some reason Rafe couldn’t shake the feeling she was making ever-so-subtle fun of him. “What was your question?”
Rafe drew a breath and leant over to look at her. “Why’re you doing this?”
“I’m an Assassin,” Aderyn said, unblinking again. Holding his gaze and this time he recognised what that meant. In the poorest parts of the street, he’d seen the times when someone got lost down an alleyway with the wrong person, and three or four bigger boys had huddled in the path, shoulder to shoulder, arms folded, heads down and blocked the path. They weren’t doing the deed, they weren’t giving the beating, but they were sure stopping anyone who wanted to help one side or the other. The feeling of staring up at people who would not let him pass, and who he couldn’t make let him pass was too familiar one. Rafe knew a wall when he saw one.
Maybe that’s why he liked windows.
“Yeah, but,” he said. “You’re getting paid by the church for this?”
“I consider this work pro bono.”
“So you’re just killin’ people?”
“In the name of the betterment of the city.”
Rafe looked up at the clouds again, with their rolling hues of violet and peach. “That’s pretty fucked up.” He reached into the folds of his robe. “You think you can make things better by finding the right person to kill?”
“Yes.” Aderyn said, now looking at the street again, now that Rafe had given up on his line of questioning. “If there was a bad king, killing the king would remove the power that king held, and force it to transfer to someone else.”
“What if the other king was bad, too?”
“Then he could also be killed.”
Rafe tilted his head and raised an eyebrow to cast another gaze at Aderyn. “Just keep killing the bad people, eh?”
“In a fair and just world, with power distributed equally, we could consider such morality. But we live in a world where you, a whole person, can be considered a handful of coins on a ledger and a person like me can’t, and there are people with more coins and more power than the people over whom they rule, and the souls they own.” A flare of delicate white nostrils. “I did not kill a man today, Rafe, I slew a dragon that walked in the shoes of a man.” Aderyn didn’t blink, even when she was looking at the streets, as she spoke.
Rafe swallowed, wondering why his throat was dry, and very much wanted to end the conversation. His fingers hit a hard wooden shape in his robes, and he remembered something. Fishing it out, he produced Praefoco’s cigar box. “Cigarette?” he offered. “DuMauriers, I hear. From the Gallian, uh, Of Maurier.”
Aderyn turned her head to look at him, and burst out in a sweet smile. “Oh, Rafe. That’s not what that means.”
“No. DuMaurier is Gallian. That would mean The Maurier.”
Rafe looked into the case. “The more the maurier I suppose?” he asked, aloud, wondering if the joke even worked.
“It’s a shame we weren’t in Lleywa when you said that,” she offered, patting his hand. “You could have said, ‘The moors, the maurier,’ and it would have made some sense.”
Rafe gave a weak little smile, trying to hide the hotness in his cheeks that came from being reminded that he could barely read. “Well, um, want one?”
“Oh, goodness no. Cigarettes are dreadful things for the lungs. And you should probably reconsider them, too. They’re quite noxious if you need to do a lot of heavy lifting.”
Rafe looked into the box. “Really? I thought they were good for you.”
“No, that’s a common misconception.” She shook her head. “One most commonly distributed and supported by nobles who like to sell their cigarettes to poor people. But think about it, how often do you sit by the fire breathing in the smoke to feel better?”
Rafe thought about that for a long moment, staring into the cigarette box. Thinking of warm fires in a communal room, smelling crackling wood and nursing bruises and bloody patches in his hair. The real answer choked back, he shook his head. “Never, really.”
“Quite.” Aderyn said, slowly standing up. “You know, Rafe,” she extended her hand to him, “We should go find Brother Fratarelli again, let him know we’re done.” She shook her head, braid falling over one shoulder, the first rays of the sun shooting over her head, framing her outline as she held her hand steady. “And I rather think that you’re the worst worst murderer I’ve ever met.”
Rafe put both of his hands underneath him, lifting upwards and looked away, rubbing his cheeks with his fingertips, as he looked across the city for the signs of the chapel. “… Yeah.”
Wardell was opening the doors on the town house. He shuffled about as carefully as a man with a bad leg did, in a narrow alleyway. The sun was rising, the streets were slowly filling, and the sounds of a city in wakeful sit could be heard bouncing between the buildings. The sound was broken by the splish-splish-splish-thud-thud-thud-splish of someone running, running so hard as to ignore the puddles, then skid and round the corner, to plant a hand on the wall, breathing deep and looking up at Wardell.
“This your house, mate?” the messenger asked, gulping in air in huge breaths.
“No, I’m the help. But I work here.”
“Got a message, said it can’t wait.”
Wardell looked up at the building. None of the masks would be here for hours, which was going to give him time to set up and maybe have a spot of breakfast, if the bacon in the icebox was still good, and perhaps a tomato and some fish, too. Shaking his head with a sigh, he put his hand back on the doorknob for balance, his other hand fishing in his pocket. “What is it, mate?” he asked.
“Word from the barneys is that Elian Praefoco’s dead. Been dun murdered. They’re saying he was knifed along with Cameo Tully – killed by the assailant coming in.” He finally straightened up, wincing the wince of a man with lungs that felt on fire. “You got that?”
Wardell licked his lower lip, very nervously. “And… they told you to come here, to deliver that message, here…?”
“How… something.” Wardell said, producing a coin and tossing it to the messenger. “Good work, man. Do clear off, though, I’ve got to wash these walls this morning,” he said, trying to laugh easily.