Up here on the roof, Kennia could barely make out the men on the street below. She looked up at the sky … Gods it was a full moon, but the clouds had hidden it away, and the night was dark. Dressed in black leather that creaked a bit as she knelt on the roof edge to get a better look, Kennia did not have a good feeling about this job. Too many coincidences had already gone against them. Usually with Tai, things went like clockwork when they did jobs together. This one .. this one seemed different.
Still not sure which of the men was her target, and perhaps more importantly which one was Tai, she knew time was running short, Kennia loosed her bow from her back, stringing it and readying an arrow. She knew that the plan required her to make a perfect shot, a kill shot, on the leader of this rival gang. There was no other way the two of them had a chance of this plan succeeding without that. Usually Kennia felt cool and relaxed under such pressure, confident of her abilities. But so far tonight, the dice had not come up in their favor.
First, the rival gang leader, Dextyn, had been lucky. Tai and Kennia had hoped to catch just him and his usual two bodyguards here in town. No such luck – two more thugs had just come in with the train from Ironforge. Just dumb bad luck.
Second, they had sent a message to Beryc in hopes of having Bear available as extra muscle. Much to their chagrin, the gryphon carrying that message had fallen ill on its flight and was waylaid in Lakeshire – Beryc would not get the message in time it would seem.
And now third … her difficult shot had now become almost impossible with the arrival of the unexpected clouds. Kennia winced, as the bells started to chime midnight. The plan called for her to take the shot on the tenth chime. With that, Tai would swing into action, taking full advantage of the surprise provided by her. She grimaced as she pulled the arrow back, the bowstring and the muscles in her arm going taut; what if Tai noticed the clouds? Would he call it off? Damn it … the hand signal they had devised in case of trouble was no good either. If she couldn’t see Dextyn, she couldn’t see his hand signal.
Bong, bong … the clock hit its seventh bell, as Kennia carefully kept count, despite her worries, the consummate professional. Her mind raced, even as she peeked out of the corner of her eye to see that the moon was still blocked … Fortune was not going to help them get this done, she thought, so she damn well better figure it out.
Bong, bong … eight, nine, and … the pendulum in the bell swung back in a slow arc, about to strike the bell for its tenth chime … Kennia chose her target and let the arrow fly.
Down on the ground, despite a burning desire to see the crouched form of Kennia on the rooftop, Tai kept his eyes locked on Dextyn; Tai was not about to give away his lover’s position by glancing up to see her familiar silhouette in the moonlight, he thought to himself. Dextyn was rambling on about divvying up the city’s smuggling trade … The clock was tolling … good, this pointless chattering wouldn’t last much longer.
An alarm went off in Tai’s head … moonlight?! Gods … where in the blazes was the moonlight? Tai had planned this meeting fully aware of the lunar cycle and had wanted enough light so Kennia could see who was who … Tai could not restrain the grimace that crossed his lips, thinking of how he’d seen the clouds scud in over the plains with the sinking sun.
Dextyn, although an arrogant prig of a smuggler, had not gotten where he was by being unaware. Even in the darkness, he could sense Tai tense up. Suspecting something, Dextyn quietly but quickly put his hands on the hilts of his two swords. No former street kid was going to get the drop on him, Dextyn thought – his very last thought, its accuracy very little comfort to him.
Kennia’s arrow thwumped into the back of Dextyn’s neck, stopping only after the tip had come clean through the other side. Tai looked into the man’s instantly blank eyes, and whirled into motion. His blades, already loose in their sheathes, appeared in his hands in one smooth motion. Before Dextyn’s bodyguards could react, Tai had whirled on the largest one, slamming the dagger in his right hand into the hulking man’s gut and slipping the other dagger into his kidney from the side.
Quick and deadly – according to plan, Tai thought, just before one of the other bodyguards, who apparently had excellent reflexes, grabbed Tai around the throat with one snakelike arm. Tai could feel the man unsheathing his dagger.
After Kennia had released the arrow, she’d dropped her bow on the rooftop, put her hand on the edge and vaulted over, her muscular body springing into action. Knowing the fall was too great, she landed on the edge of the ledge on the next story, her muscular thighs knotting and just keeping her balance.
She looked down the remaining two stories, only to see Tai grabbed from behind. She knew time was short. She saw the awning below and leapt out clear of the building, wrapping herself up like a cat as she fell into the cloth. Rolling with the fall, she came off the awning, landing in a crouched position, both blades drawn. She snarled like an angry tigress at the surprised man holding Tai. Her blades flashed threateningly.
Foolishly, the man let Tai go, thinking this was only a woman. Better for him that he’d kept Tai a hostage, perhaps Kennia’s only weakness. As Tai coughed to catch his breath, Kennia sprung up, landing a kick in the surprised bodyguard’s chest, knocking him back towards the other two, who now had blades drawn. Keeping one blade up, she helped Tai to his feet, as he picked up his daggers.
The three bodyguards now circled the two, surrounding them in a dark alley. Kennia and Tai wordlessly slid into fighting stances, guarding each other’s back, as if they’d practiced it a thousand times. Without looking back, Tai said, “Glad you showed up; Dextyn was boring the hell out of me.” Kennia chuckled. As the three men jockeyed for position around the two, Tai asked, “By the way, marvelous shot; he never knew what hit him. How by the Gods did you see it was him and not me in this darkness?” Kennia paused for a moment, not answering her blades circling constantly keeping the men at a safe distance – for now. Then she replied, “Well, I couldn’t really see anyone’s face, love.”
The implications of this statement stopped Tai dead in his tracks, “But …” With this hesitation, the three attackers suddenly pressed their attack, steel arcing through the night air.
Kennia’s right sword went up, deflecting the down swing of one attacker’s sword, while her left sword forced the other attacker’s sword into the ground. Tai, meanwhile, sidestepped the third attacker, a tall red-headed man with a bristly beard. Not wanting to expose Kennia’s back to him, Tai brought his knee up into the crotch of his attacker, stopping the forward motion of the man instantly – but also filling the man with pure rage in his pain.
Kennia heard the yell, but was busy dealing with the other two. She’d just have to trust that Tai had her back – something she had now grown accustomed to. Even amidst the whistling blades and grunts of exertion, she smiled in the darkness, knowing they were both part of one unit … one deadly unit. Pushing back the attacker on her right with an arm stronger than he expected, Kennia flicked her left blade up across the exposed chest of the attacker on her left, his sword still pointed towards the ground. He staggered back.
Tai would have helped but had his own problems. The red head, angry beyond words, had knocked the blades from Tai’s hands and grabbed him around the neck, slowly throttling him. Tai could feel the man’s thick fingers pressed into his wind pipe. Feeling the lack of air and knowing that the clock was ticking on him, Tai took a new tact. He reached up and grabbed the man’s shirt, and pulled him towards himself, a move the man hadn’t expected and was not prepared for. As Tai jerked him forward, Tai brought his own head forward, smashing his forehead into the brute’s face.
Kennia heard the meaty thunk made by Tai’s head, as she pushed the sword of the man she was fighting aside with her long sword, giving her rapier in her left hand ample opportunity. She struck quickly, sinking the narrow blade between the man’s ribs, and burying it in his chest. Even as he died though, he looked up … and behind Kennia. Too late she realized that he was watching his fellow attacker come up on her side, the one she’d slashed but not finished.
While she fought, Tai had collapsed in a heap with the red head, the man’s fingers still locked around Tai’s throat. Knowing Kennia was fighting alone, Tai scrambled to free himself from the nearly unconscious man’s grip. Reaching for a weapon, any weapon, his hand found the dropped sword of his attacker – not one of Tai’s proficiencies, but it would have to do. He turned just in time to see the man charging Kennia from the side, while she was busy with the other.
No time to waste! Tai launched himself forward with his powerful legs, yelling like a dervish to distract the man. Distract he did – the man whirled and turned to Tai, holding a very large blade with both hands. Tai looked down at the small short sword he’d acquired and tried to remember all those sword lessons his brother had taught him back when he was a boy. The two-handed sword came down in a crashing arc, and Tai used both hands to hold his own sword against the onslaught. But the sheer weight of his opponent’s sword and the span of years since he’d uses a sword in combat were too much – in parrying the blow, the small sword’s blade had broken.
The attacker smiled in the darkness, confident of victory. Tai looked at his broken blade and then to his attacker, and said with a tsk, “This is going to leave a mark I’m afraid.” The man, thinking Tai was talking about his own impending wounds, laughed – but only for a moment. Kennia’s sword cut the laughter short, slicing clean through the man’s thick, hairy neck. Tai looked at her, “You know, I don’t think he saw humor in that.” Kennia, her blood still running high from battle, looked at Tai, confused herself, “What?”
Tai chuckled, as he gathered his blades. Kennia came over to him and pointed to the one still alive, holding his nose which was still gushing blood, “And this one?” Tai crouched down next to him, on the balls of his feet, “This one? How about we let this one tell the other member’s of Dextyn’s former gang that the Tong will gladly take care of all of the city’s smuggling?” He looked over to the man, wrapping his knuckles on the man’s hands clenched to his face causing the man a spasm of pain; “Think you can handle that big boy?”
Tai assumed that the moaning was a yes, and stood, smiling devilishly at Kennia; “Did I mention how much I love how you look in that black leather?” She just shook her head in the darkness, having heard it before but still enjoying hearing it. Now it was her turn, “By the way, aren’t you curious how I knew where to aim my arrow?” Tai stopped mid-turn, remembering now that he had wondered that – he’d wondered very much how she’d chosen.
Kennia smiled at his consternation, as if she’d actually take such a risk. Though she contemplated pointing out to him (and his logical, thought out approach) that even if her choice had been random, there was only a one in six chance she would have chosen Tai. She giggled a bit … he wouldn’t like that answer …. Or those odds when it came to the point of one of her razor sharp arrows. A choice made by a simple roll of the dice.
As they turned together to walk out the alley, Tai tossed the broken sword hilt on the stomach of the red-head, and slipped an arm around Kennia’s waist. “Come on”, he urged, “Tell this old trickster how you figured it out.” Enjoying both the feel of his arm on her and the power of this puzzle she held the answer too, she savored the moment, walking a few steps before speaking; “Tai, my love, on the roof, I realized I don’t need to see your face to know you. Even in the dim light, I know my own lover’s way of standing. And on top of that, you were the only one of the six who had the good sense to put your back towards a wall, silly. Easy as pie.” Tai grunted, impressed with her skill. Kennia smiled herself, glad she’d figured that out herself before the tenth bell.