Check out the start of the series.
Owin cautiously searched the second floor of the building, but his speed continued to increase as he moved from room to room and still had no indication anyone else was in the building. There was no other light except what he carried and no sounds of movement could be heard.
Of the five rooms on the second floor, only the room that had been cleared of furniture had anything interesting in it. The open area of this room had dark stains on the floor and practice weapons leaned against the walls. Most of the wooden weapons had no markings, but in his quick search, Owin noted two swords that bore marks of Duchess Emilia. The brands had been scratched out, but not enough to hide the Duchesses crest. Subtle enough that if it was the only evidence, it would not mean anything, but I am sure there will be more floating around to pin the blame on her.
Owin had already started down the stairs to the first floor when the sounds of bells came from the first floor. The faint creaking of a door open was mixed in, makes Owin fairly certain someone had opened the front door. Gwen, that better not be you.
Halfway down the stairs, Owin could not go either direction without the steps betraying his movement. He waited a moment before deciding which direction he would go. From below, he could hear the sounds of the wooden floor creaking as at least two people moved about the front room. Based on the muffled sound, Owin suspected there was a dividing wall separating the front of the boarded up shop from a backroom where the stairs would exit.
So they’ve come back. Owin knew he did not want to engage these men in the narrow stairwell. While it would limit the combat to one person at a time, there was not enough room to swing a sword and if the men had bows, it was unlikely they would miss with such a confined target.
Surprise is gone, Owin admitted to himself as he set the lamp down on the stairs and drew out his dagger. He discarded the thought of blowing out the flame; having never seen the room below, he could not risk attempting to engage anyone in total darkness.
With his weapons in hand, he descended the stairs, placing his feet at the sides of the step closest to the wall. The effort reduced the creaking of the stairs, but did not eliminate it entirely.
Owin reached the bottom of the stairs just as a door in the opposite corner of the room opened, spilling light into the backroom. Owin quickly assessed his surroundings and noted only a couple of rickety chairs and a couple crates next to the back wall, but nothing to offer cover.
Before he could get more than a step away from the stairs a tall man in leather armor came into the room through the doorway. He carried a lamp in his left hand and a sword in his right. The man’s dark hair hung loose and partially covered his left eye. A smirk rose to his lips as the man met Owin’s eyes.
Owin recognized Urel immediately, but more than a dozen feet separated them. The assassin nodded his head as he lowered the lamp to the floor, setting it next to the wall behind him.
“I don’t know you,” came Urel’s baritone voice, “but I can see it in your eyes that you know me.” Urel took another step into the room, moving away from the door, but did not closing the gap between them.
“I’m no one,” Owin said evenly. Urel had a reputation and Owin knew not all of it had been fabricated. His intended quip died on his tongue as the other man who had followed Gwen earlier in the night now led Gwen into the room, one arm around her neck while another held a dagger to her throat.
Urel smiled. “I see you know this odd looking girl who happened to be squatting down our street.”
“Let her go.” Owin felt his anger rising and had to fight to keep from advancing on the men.
“Gib here didn’t like being led astray.” Urel shook his head. “He found I was highly displeased at their failure.” Urel shrugged, “of course Gib said Tommy insisted they had done their job, but I am guessing Tommy is not going to be able to refute that now, is he?”
Owin watched several emotions move across the face of the man holding Gwen.
“You saying he hurt Tommy?” The dark-haired man holding Gwen asked.
“Urel, let her go,” Owin said. “This is between me and you.”
“Urel? Sims, who does this man think you are?” Gib asked, more confusion crossing his face.
Urel raised his eyebrows and tossed his head to clear his hair from his eyes. “That is a good question. I’ve been keeping low to avoid notice, but it seems someone else has a game to play. After all, someone has been spreading rumors which upset our plans. However, if you wont tell me your name, I am sure Gib will be able to get your friend to tell us.”
Owin kept his face free of emotion. Unless he could convince them to release Gwen while he stood with his weapons in hand, Gwen would be as dead as he, only she would likely suffer before they ended her life. My only chance is to divide loyalties. “Urel, I know you plan to kill the Uvarian ambassador and leave hints in this shop that Duchess Emilia was behind it. My guess is you planned to have Gib and Tommy take the fall for the assassination attempt while you slip out the back. Succeed or fail, it doesn’t matter as long as they die or get captured while you get away.” Owin nodded his head, seeing hints of tension in Urel’s face. “The two of them likely overheard you mumble things a few times and you’ve probably planted enough evidence around to convince anyone who was looking for an easy explanation that the Duchess is involved.” Owin shrugged as he forced himself to remain calm. “Which means Duke Ravigar wins, since that is who is paying you.”
Urel smiled again. “You seem to think you know a lot about things. But you’re wrong. We’re just a couple of merchants working to reopen this shop.”
“Sims, is what he said true?” Gib asked.
“No,” Urel said, his body shifting into a fighting stance as he took a step toward Owin. “But, we now can be certain of who arranged to have the meeting moved. This man is the reason you won’t get paid.”
“Gib, this man is a master assassin,” Owin said, readying himself to deal with Urel. “Let her go and I’ll forget about you. Urel has no loyalty to you, he planned for you and your friend to die.”
“You talk too much,” Urel said as he pulled a throwing knife from his belt with his left hand.
Owin shifted left, away from Gib, as Urel moved his arm to throw the knife, but Urel did not release it immediately. Owin wanted to watch Gib and Gwen, but he dared not take his eyes from Urel. If he was lucky, enough doubt existed in Gib’s mind to keep the man from killing Gwen and jumping into the battle.
Urel took a step to his right. Owin knew he had done that to keep Owin from putting Urel between him and Gib. A slight shift in Urel’s shoulder sent Owin back to the right as the throwing knife was released. Owin contorted his body, but the blade still caught his shirt and bounced into his back, slicing a shallow cut.
Urel took advantage of the distraction and closed the distance. Owin blocked a thrust of Urel sword with his dagger and countered a follow-up slash before getting his feet back under him.
The movement had caused Owin to back up and he felt the corner of the room close in on him. The small backroom left him limited room to dodge and while Gib had not moved from the doorway, Owin was certain that if he presented Gib his back, Gib might kill Gwen and press the advantage.
Urel advanced again, thrusting and slashing quickly, driving Owin back another step. Owin was impressed by the speed of his opponent, but he began to observe a pattern in Urel’s attacks. The only question is if the pattern is bait or weakness.
Owin countered the third set of blows from Urel as he shifted left to try to gain a little more space. Urel’s lip curled slightly, as the taller man cut him off while catching Owin’s left arm with the tip of his sword.
Owin felt the burn of the cut on his forearm, but he knew the wound was not fatal. What worried him more was the lack of room to maneuver and the fact that if he died, Gwen would suffer.
Urel pushed another advance and Owin countered quickly, tying up Urel sword with his own while he slashed out with his dagger. Owin felt the tip of the blade catch on Urel’s leather armor, but the taller assassin had moved back to avoid a wound.
Owin used the opportunity to step out of the corner, but Urel recovered quickly enough to keep Owin against the wall. A moment later, Gib screamed in pain. Owin felt urgency overtake him and he pressed his own attack. Urel defended it, but the assassin’s eyes said his confidence had weakened.
Movement across the room caught both Owin and Urel’s attention. Gwen had moved away from Gib, a bloody dagger in her hand, held defiantly toward the larger man.
Urel advanced again, using the same pattern of attack. Owin feigned a quick thrust, drawing Urel to suddenly change his pattern and attempt a thrust of his own; however, Owin had expected the change and he twisted to avoid the thrust as he stepped closer. Urel’s eyes widened as Owin drove his dagger into the man’s gut.
Urel stepped aside, trying to get his sword back into play, but Owin kept pace with the assassin and punched the man in the face with the pommel of his sword. The assassin’s head flung back; his hair whipping through the air.
Owin pulled his dagger free and advanced quickly, swinging both his sword and dagger in harmony. Urel managed to deflect two slashes, but missed a thrust of Owin’s sword. The new injury slowed the assassin and Owin’s blades each continued to bite into the man. Three thrusts later, the assassin fell to the floor.
“Your friend’s dead,” Gwen shouted, her head inclined toward Owin. The man in front of her stopped dead in his tracks, though his sword still pointed toward Gwen.
Owin stepped away from Urel, not certain the man was completely dead, but the deep penetrations into his chest would hopefully end the assassin’s life quickly. Owin cleared his throat as Gib slowly looked in his direction. Gib’s sword wavered in his left hand as blood ran from his right that he held close to his chest. The flow of blood running down the front of his armor said the wound Gwen made was deep.
“You were a pawn of an assassin and you can be certain he intended for you to either die in the attempt to kill the Ambassador or for it hang later.” Owin could still see doubt in Gib’s face. “You can believe me, because it is exactly what I would have done to you had I intended to frame the Duchess. Urel worked for Duke Ravigar and you would not have lived to see the end of this week. Take your life and walk away.” Owin narrowed his eyes and allowed the blood to drip from his left arm to the floor. “Because if you try to take one more step toward my friend, you’ll be as dead as Urel before your foot finishes the first step.”
Gib swallowed. The man looked at Owin’s bleeding arm and the rock steady hand held out the bloody dagger. The man looked up to Owin’s face and then he quickly turned away and ran out the door.
Owin waited, listening to the man’s feet crossing the floor. “You okay?” he asked as the bells over the front door chimed when the man left the shop.
“He was so intent on the fight, that he didn’t notice me grab one of his other daggers. I jabbed it through his forearm that was holding the dagger.”
Owin smiled, blood splattered the front of Gwen’s clothing, but her eyes were bright. “Good thinking. It’s kind of hard for him to cut your throat if there is a dagger in his arm.”
“I’m so sorry I was caught,” she said, stepping toward him.
Owin shook his head. “I should have had you hide further away.” He took a deep breath and handed her his sword while he cleaned off his dagger and put it back in its sheath. “I need to bind this wound, then we need to take care of things before anyone summons the city guards and finds us still here.”