RMRK is retiring.
Registration is disabled. The site will remain online, but eventually become a read-only archive. More information.

RMRK.net has nothing to do with Blockchains, Cryptocurrency or NFTs. We have been around since the early 2000s, but there is a new group using the RMRK name that deals with those things. We have nothing to do with them.
NFTs are a scam, and if somebody is trying to persuade you to buy or invest in crypto/blockchain/NFT content, please turn them down and save your money. See this video for more information.
[Writing] An untitled fantasy-action story by Matt

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Level 75
Artist and Writer
Story's in the spoiler to save page space.

Some random info--I've been writing fiction for four and a half years now, not for profit, almost never serious. I write action, fantasy, young adult, religious, supernatural, and just a tiny bit of romance. My current project isn't even titled (the one below), but it's more fun to write than most of my others.

I understand I have a lot flaws in there, especially with the economic system. That's why I'm here. I need feedback, and the writing sections of my other two forums are pretty much dead. I also understand that not many people have the time nor the patience to sit down and read a random guy's unpublished story. I don't expect masses of readers. It took me five posts on my first forum story before anyone else replied.

Spoiler for:
Chapter 1: A Child Mercenary

   Jonathan Light was well along in his years when he was faced with the worst situation of his life. He had instantly, but secretly, sought help. But he had little to offer as a reward, and most passing mercenaries hadn’t taken it. The risk, they’d said, wasn’t worth the insultingly low reward. Twenty copper coins for killing a crime lord? Some of the mercenaries had laughed at the elderly novelist. Experienced and amateur alike, every present sellsword had declined the offer.

   Jonathan turned from his desk to face his young granddaughter. “Andria.”

   “Grandpa, you look tired.”

   “I’m . . . yes, tired.”

   Jonathan had recently returned from the tavern where traveling mercenaries usually dropped in. Twenty had turned him down before he returned to his small two-story house near the edge of town.

   “Andria, when you grown up,” he said, “please don’t let anyone make you do anything you shouldn’t do.”


   The old man smiled. “Nothing. Nothing.” Ruffling his granddaughter’s hair, he continued, “I might have to go away soon. I don’t want what’s happening to me . . . to happen to you. When I leave, I’ll take you to Miss Kenna’s house.”

   “Yay! Miss Kenna!” Andria grinned and sat down on her knees. She pressed her hands together and put them to her mouth in an imitation of the woman in question. Then, looking up, she asked, “When will you be back?”

   “I don’t know.”


   Jonathan took a sheet of paper from his desk. “Want to hear a story, Andria?”

   “Yeah! Which one?”

   “A new one—a true story about good people who dedicate their lives to helping people in need.”

   “They’re heroes then. Miss Kenna says anyone who is good and helps people who need help is a hero.”

   “Yes, you could say that. These people are heroes. They live in Treviri and travel the world to fight bad people and scary monsters. These people are warriors, healers, monks—like Miss Kenna, archers, scouts . . . there are a lot of them. There has to be, in order to fight all the bad things in the world.”

   “Is Miss Kenna one of them?”

   “No. But people like Miss Kenna are. They’re called Seekers. They’re said to have abilities beyond those known to us—stretching possibility’s limits. Almost magic. But it’s a special gift. There are people who are born with these abilities. Whether they actually become Seekers is, of course, their own choice.”

   “What kind of abilities are they?”

   “I’m not entirely sure. I’ve heard tell that it’s like reaching your full potential early in life and being able to add on to it—to make it better.”

   “What’s potential?”

   “What you’re able to do. Your full potential would be what you’re able to do based on your natural limits—like age, build, and other things. But you can make it better. It’s strange, isn’t it? Being able to do your very best, then do better?”

   Andria kept listening. But before her grandpa could continue, there was a knock on the front door. Jonathan knew the sound of the knock. “Stay here,” he said to Andria. He descended the stairs, clutching the railing. When he opened the door, the man he didn’t want to see stood in the doorway.

   “Hello, Mister Light. I assume you’ve started rewriting your manuscript in the way the incident really happened.”

   “I haven’t had the time to work on it, Opeil. But—”

   “Then should I remove your distractions?”

   Opeil pointed in the house past Jonathan, toward Andria, who was peering out from behind the staircase.

   “You won’t touch her!”

   Opeil raised a fist and sank it into Jonathan’s stomach. “I’ll touch what I will, Light. Don’t make me wait another day or that girl’s going to be stuck on the end of my blade. So get working. Now!”

   The door shut. Still recovering from the punch, Jonathan looked around at Andria, who asked, “Is he one of the bad people the Seekers fight?”

   Jonathan waited a moment to catch his breath. “Yes,” he said. “He’s exactly what the Seekers fight. From now on, whenever he comes to the house, hide.”


   A day passed. Jonathan reluctantly rewrote his novel’s manuscript. He kept the old one, because he had no intention of releasing this altered one if he could find a way to get rid of the crimelord Opeil. While he was working, Andria read his old stories—ones he had written especially for her. Neither of them heard the door open, but they both heard the footsteps on the stairs.

   “Hide!” Jonathan whispered to Andria, who crawled under Jonathan’s bed. A moment later, Opeil arrived.

   “Light! Good to see you hard at work. And I see you’re doing the right manuscript this time. But what’s this?”

   Opeil picked up a stack of paper from under Jonathan’s chair. “Is this the manuscript I told you to throw away?”

   “I needed it for reference to the events in the new one.”

   “Hm . . . well, that’s reasonable, but I need to make sure you’re not thinking about releasing the old one. So I’ll take that girl who’s hiding under the bed. Oh, and don’t even think about trying to stop me. I’m no Seeker, but I assure you, my fists are as deadly as any blade. If you do good on the story and get it out on time, I’ll give the kid back, unharmed. If not, I’ll sell her to the eastern slave merchants.”

   Andria didn’t scream or cry as she was kidnapped. “You’re taking this well,” Opeil commented as he walked down the stairs.

   “Because you’re a bad person. And Seekers beat up bad people.”

   If the girl’s age had been in the double digits, she would have been beaten for such a comment. But Opeil simply laughed. “Seekers are nothing but a myth. And even if they do exist, they’re not about to save you. And even if they did that, there’s no way they’d ever get past me.”

   A person in a dark cloak with white edges watched the muscular, unshaven man walk away with an unwilling child in tow. The same person watched an old man come out of the house from with the previous two had come. This one headed in the opposite direction, toward the tavern. Interested, the cloaked person followed.


   He was reduced to begging. Jonathan pleaded with the mercenaries at the tavern to save his granddaughter. The cloaked person walked in as he was rejected by a tall mercenary with a long sword at his belt.

   “Can you help me, good sir? My granddaughter—”

   “Sorry, gramps. I heard your story. I’m not takin’ Opeil on. I’d just do what he says if I was you. If it’s any help, I can tell you that he likes to read about heroes failing against people like him.”

   “What!?” Jonathan exclaimed. “Doesn’t that ruin the entire story?”

   “He did the same thing to Canien Wend not too long ago. Surprised you didn’t hear about it.”

   “I don’t want to.”

   “I don’t blame you. Good luck, old man.”

   Jonathan looked around at the group of mercenaries. None of them had agreed to help him, at least not for the price he’d set. He looked around for anyone new to the tavern. He spotted a female figure in a black and white cloak, sitting at the bar. Although there was noise, the tavern was quiet enough for him to hear her and the bartender converse.

   “Hey there, lassie. What can I getcha?” the bartender asked.

   “Water, please.”

   “Water? Aye, ye not be of drinkin’ age?”

   The woman—or girl—didn’t answer.

   “Well, ya look t’be ‘bout . . . ya look like . . . nineteen, tops? Fifteen, mins?”

   “The water. Please.”

   “Aye. Certainly. Sorry ‘bout that.”

   A girl at the tavern? Was she a mercenary? Jonathan was curious. Maybe she could help him. Then again, if seasoned, aged mercenaries were turning him down, he didn’t think a teenager would be of much more use.

   “Here ya go. Water. That’s two coppers.”

   “Thank you.”

   The girl gave her thanks and put five copper coins on the table.

   “Lassie, the water’s two . . .”

   “You were concerned for me, if only a bit—about my age. It was unnecessary. But I appreciate it. Besides, you’re low this week, aren’t you?”

   This girl was rather strange. Her accent was northern, but she didn’t cut her words off as most northerners did. She had identified a financial problem with the bartender, and she showed more consideration than most of the other customers. Just maybe, she could also save a child from a certain manipulative crimelord? Her insight was good—but he had only seen one example, and although his heart told him it was wrong, he was looking for someone who could kill. Jonathan considered approaching her. Before he did so, she came to him.

   “Mister Light,” she said. “Where did Opeil take your granddaughter?”

   “You’ll help me?”

   The bartender hadn’t misjudged. This girl was certainly a teenager. Her body wasn’t visible beneath the cloak, but her height and her face were those of a teenager of fifteen to nineteen. Her voice was also young, but much more level and controlled than most people her age.

   “I’ll help you,” the girl said. “Please tell me first, if you know, where the child is being held.”

   “Opeil’s house, I think. Factory, maybe? Whichever it is, he lives there.”

   “I’ll go at once. I only need to return your granddaughter unharmed and convince Opeil to leave you alone, correct?”

   “Yes. But will you be okay?”

   The girl smiled. It was something Jonathan hadn’t expected from her, but it wasn’t a bad thing. Her smile was rather pretty. “You’re concerned for me too. Or are you just worried that I might fail to bring the child back safely?”

   “Well, admittedly . . . both. It’s a bit odd to see a girl of your age taking on a task like this, so I’m concerned both for your wellbeing and for my granddaughter’s.”

   “You’re a good man, Mister Light. I wish more people were like you. Please trust me for now. I promise you, you and your granddaughter won’t be bothered by that man after today.”

   “What is your name? I’d like to know so that I can tell my granddaughter who it was who saved her.”

   “Naomi. Naomi Revertere.”

   With that, she left. When Jonathan looked down, only five of the twenty copper coins he was offering were gone. He hadn’t noticed Naomi take them, but he was thankful that she’d left him enough to live off.


   Naomi arrived at the factory soon enough. It was, in fact, a factory, albeit inactive. As she put her hand on the door, it opened, and a young woman stepped out, looking quite depressed. Seeing Naomi, she said, “You’re not another one of his whores, are you? No. You don’t look it. You’re just a kid.”

   “I’m here for a girl child who was kidnapped. Have you seen her?”

   “Aye, the redhead kid? ‘Bout six or seven. You gonna help her, by all means, go ahead.”

   “You bear resentment for Opeil?”

   “Girlie, if I didn’t, I’d be either an idiot or evil. See this?” The woman rolled up her sleeve to reveal a light engraving on the back of her hand. “It’s sort of a magic bond. When it’s like this, when Opeil calls me, I have to come. Otherwise . . . bad things happen.”

   “I might be able to help.”

   “If you could just kill that man, I’d be grateful. Watch out though, girlie. If he gets his hands on you, you’re not gonna like what happens.  You’re a pretty thing. I don’t think he could resist, even if he wanted to.”

   Naomi heeded the warning and entered the factory. It was a relatively small place. All of the equipment for whatever purpose was packed in close. There was a single, long stairway in front of her that led to a second floor where, Naomi guessed, she’d find her objective. She started up the stairway and was met by a guard. Wielding a short spear, he stopped Naomi just before the stairs.

   “Stop. You a student? Doin’ field research? If so, leave. This place is restricted.”

   “I’m sure you can find it in your heart to let me pass. I want nothing more than to save the life of a little girl.”

   “Ah, you a northern girl. Ya got the accent. Ya human? Elf? Pretty, that’s f’sure. Say you gonna save a kid? That’s good. Go on ahead. But . . . don’t tell Opeil I let you in, else I get a beatin’.”

   “You were just seeing to a possible intruder from the back and didn’t see me come in,” Naomi said. “I have nothing more to tell.”

   The guard liked this girl. Her lie sounded like the honest truth, and in addition, it was a lie to help him. He hoped she wouldn’t go and get herself killed by Opeil.

   “Be careful of Opeil. He’s a powerful sorcerer, and a martial artist at that. One punch could be the equivalent of a guillotine, so watch yourself up there.”

   “Thanks. But I’m not worried about a sorcerer.”

   Naomi headed up the stairs. Protective spells in the center, she thought. Just skittle around them and . . . I’m at the top! There were three doors on this floor, one on each wall. She quietly opened the door to her left. Immediately, she slammed it shut and backed away. Every one of her senses had screamed, “DEATH” at the moment her toe entered the room. Heart racing, she took a deep breath and turned to the middle door. This one wasn’t trapped, but Naomi’s fear remained, and she was cautious as she stepped into the room.

   “Andria Light?” she said. “Are you in here?”

   Her answer came as a small tug on her cloak. She looked down. A little girl was gazing up at her. “Are you a Seeker?” she asked.

   Naomi put a finger to her lips. “Sh. There’s someone else here.”

   She stepped swiftly behind a cabinet just as the door opened. Opeil walked in. “Hey. Kid. You didn’t go and try to get into the other rooms, did you?”

   “No,” Andria said. “I was here.”

   “The ripper was unsettled. Maybe it was my fool of a guard. But to someone like him, I’m surprised he didn’t just walk in. You can’t feel the ripper’s intent unless you’ve got exceptional power. Ah, what am I blabbing about? You don’t understand me anyway. You’re just a kid. All right, just stay here till I’m done with the old man. If it turns out well, I might feed you this month.”

   “You’re an evil man, Mister Opeil,” Naomi said. She stepped out of hiding and faced the man. “You took a young girl hostage to force a man to write lies that uplift you. You enslaved an unwilling woman using an engraved bond. You keep a ripper to kill people who know the things that I do.”

   “You a mercenary? You sound like a runt.”

   “Step out of the room, Opeil. If you hurt the girl in our fight, both of our objectives are forfeit.”

   Opeil walked out of the room. Naomi followed him. “Stay here,” she told Andria. “I’ll take you home soon.”

   “So you’re a scout, are you, girl? Either you are or you’ve got the talent of one. The way you read me is good. It’d be a shame to kill you and waste such abilities. Why don’t you remove your cloak, so I can see if I want to keep you for pleasure or for hitman work?”

   “My cloak stays where it is. I’ll ask you this once. Will you release the bond you have on the slave woman and free this child? I don’t want to harm you, but if you don’t comply, I will.”

   “I don’t think you understand your situation, girl. Scout or not, you’re just a kid. I’m a sorcerer and a martial artist. Knowing that, do you still wish to challenge me? If you revoke your challenge now, I can promise I won’t do anything to make you uncomfortable.”

   “Your intentions for me are purely sexual and selfish. If you like my body, you’ll rape me. If you don’t, you’ll use me as your personal assassin. Not make me uncomfortable? I thought you could surely tell a less blatant lie.”

   Opeil took a fighting stance. “Then take me on girl, and be glad I have the mercy not to just release the ripper on you.”

   “Again, your reason for that is sexual. You don’t want my body destroyed before you see it. If you see it and don’t like it, you’re going to open that door behind me.”

   “Your reading truly is amazing. Very well then. You can make the first move.”

   “So that you can gauge my ability in battle. My speed, power, and skill. Still. Prepare yourself. I might not fight with a weapon that’s fair against yours.”

   With that, Naomi reached under her cloak and rushed in. Opeil dodged to the side as Naomi drew an empty hand from her cloak. She attacked him again, but slower. Confused, he didn’t completely avoid her fist. His forearm was cut.

   “Ah, very good. I couldn’t see your blades at first. You truly are a great fighter.”

   They fought again. Naomi fought inconsistently. Her attacks were all of completely different speeds and her defense was never the same twice. Sometimes she was slower than others, but she never got hit. In a full minute of combat, neither side gave way, but Naomi was apparently winning.

   “You seem to have forgot. I’m a sorcerer.”

   Opeil pointed a hand at Naomi, who ducked. The wall behind her cracked. At the same moment, her body caught fire. She yelped, but didn’t scream, as Opeil had expected.

   “I really didn’t want to destroy your body yet, but I could never make you submit otherwise. Comply now and I’ll put it out.

   From a pillar of fire, Naomi’s voice came out. “I’ll put it out myself, thanks.”

   Her cloak blew away, in flames. Naomi stood, untouched, in front of Opeil. Without her cloak, her weapons were plainly visible. At her hip was a small gun and a sheathed knife. She wore a copper breastplate over a light coat of chain armor. One of her arms was covered in a detachable sleeve of loose cotton. The other was covered only by a small shoulder plate. Long boots extended up to her thighs, where they met cloth wrapping and a short skirt. Her plain brown hair fell halfway down her back. Impressed, Opeil nodded.

   “Yes, that will do. If you wish to submit now, I’ll certainly take you for pleasure, Miss Half-Nymph. I see you’ve donned yourself in gear resistant to fire, aside from your cloak.”

   “You sound so impressed with yourself at identifying my race and my clothes.” Naomi’s tone hadn’t changed.

   “I’m impressed only at your beauty. Please submit now. I would very much prefer you alive.”

   “You only want to spare me for the way I look. It doesn’t take a scout to figure that out. The fact that you’re attracted to me doesn’t change my objective.”

   “If I may meet you in private, I will gladly release the girl and the woman and never come near them again.”


   With the flat refusal, Naomi took her gun from its holster. “Release the bond now. Hold up your hand. Let me see it.”

   “Using a gun is hardly fair.”

   “I warned you, didn’t I?”

   “If I release the woman, I’ll have no choice but to make you replace her.”

   Naomi charged at the man. She swung the gun in a fast, deadly arc. Opeil caught the barrel, but in the next moment, Naomi’s fist smashed into the side of his face.

   “If you don’t release it now, I’ll cut your hand off and release it by force.”

   Opeil shook Naomi off and blasted another fire spell at her. She let it hit. It did nothing. She put her gun away.

   “I have every advantage over you now. Give up and I won’t kill you.”

   Naomi’s expression changed suddenly.  She rushed forward to stop Opeil, but there was nothing she could do. He had already released his spell at the door, and the moment it hit, the door swung open the ripper appeared.

   “I’ve starved it for over a week!” Opeil said triumphantly. “There won’t be a drop of your blood left when it’s finished!”

   “You idiot!” Naomi yelled. She ran for Andria and pulled her gun at the same time. She picked up the girl and ran into the room, firing once at the fast-approaching monster. She swung her foot around and kicked the thick wooden door shut. It didn’t stall the ripper for even an instant. Naomi heard the door shatter and the monster close in on her. She sprinted toward the window on the far side of the room. The monster swung its claws at her, skimming her clothes.

   “Haha!! Kill her! Slaughter the stupid girl!”

   Opeil shouted encouragements to the monster as it slashed again and again. Twice, it caught its fleeing target’s form before she dove for the window. A trail of broken chains, blood, and a ripper’s tooth followed Naomi as she fell. She turned a half flip in the air, protecting Andria and landing hard on her back. She heard three cracks and hoped that it was her armor and not anything important. People turned and looked. Some ran to help, but promptly fled when they heard the ripper’s screech from the window. The creature was too big to fit through the opening. Naomi didn’t have to look to know that it was slashing at the bricks around the window.

   Every bone in Naomi’s body felt like glass, but as long as her back and neck were intact, she was fine—or so she told herself. Adrenaline kept the pain at a minimum as she stood up, collected Andria, and fled.

   “Doin’ great, Andria,” she breathed. “Don’ lose it on me now! Prolly should heed that m’self.”

   Making another decision, Naomi ran around to the front of the building. From here, the Light house was around a half mile away. There were people littered around the area, more off in the distance. The market place was only a few hundred yards away. Naomi disregarded it and reentered Opeil’s factory. She gave Andria to the guard who was standing at the bottom of the stairs, his weapon pointed upward.

   “Keep her safe!” Naomi yelled back, already halfway up the stairs. She came to the top and stopped. Opeil was facing her with her own gun pointed at her. She looked down at her now-empty holster, then up again.

   “Damn girl . . . I’ll kill—”

   Opeil cut himself off, firing at point blank range. Naomi’s head jerked back, the rest of her body following. He hands covered her forehead as she fell down the stairs to a small landing. There, she lay face down, unmoving. Opeil gave a shout of triumph and jumped down the stairs, aiming to crush his dead opponent’s head.


   Naomi rolled onto her side. Opeil’s boot brushed against her unprotected left shoulder. The man himself tried to catch a railing, but missed. His aerial journey down the stairs was sped up by Naomi’s round kick. Before he hit the ground, she followed him. She ran down the stairs, not caring that she tripped halfway down. Her landing point was the same. Raising her knees, she steadied her flight and landed on Opeil’s chest. His ribs gave in, but it wasn’t enough to break Naomi’s fall. She leaned forward, and momentum carried her through a roll and to her feet.  She lost no time in drawing her knife and holding up Opeil’s arm. He was in too much agony to realize what she was doing.

   “This takes care of the bond. Your guard’s taken Andria, and all that’s left is the ripper.”

   “BITCH! I’ll kill you!! I’ll—”

   “Shut up!”

   Naomi slammed the stump of Opeil’s severed arm against his head. When he didn’t shut up the first time, she hit him twice more before he fell unconscious. She looked up, trying to spot the ripper on the floor above. When she didn’t even hear it, she slowly walked up the stairs. Halfway up, there was still no sign of it. Had it jumped out the window? Naomi didn’t want to imagine the result if it had. It shouldn’t have been able to tear apart a cement wall in . . . two? Three? Four minutes?

   On the second floor, Naomi looked into the room she had jumped from. It was empty. To her left, the door was wide open. The room the ripper had come from was a control room, untouched since whenever Opeil had put the ripper in there. To the right, a previously closed door was slightly open. On tiptoes, Naomi approached the room. Cautious, she stuck Opeil’s arm in first.

   She waited. When nothing happened, she slowly pushed the door open. The room was empty except for a bed.

   Weird, Naomi thought. There’s no way I could sleep knowing a ripper was across the hall. Did Opeil use this to torture that woman? Psychological torture . . . what a horrible man.

   It wasn’t until Naomi looked down that she knew she shouldn’t have come into the room. She dropped Opeil’s arm into a puddle of blood that flowed from under the bed. She knew it would be in her best interest to turn and run, but she had to find the ripper.

   It wasn’t in this room. She knew that much. There were no claw marks on the walls or bed. There were no bloody footprints leading out of the room. The creature was too big to be able to hide in any room this size.

   Preparing to run, she peeked around the corner of the bed. The first thing she saw was the ripper’s wide-mouthed head, its vast rows of teeth pointing at her like spears and spikes in an execution pit. Its headless body lay against the wall at the head of the bed.

   “Are you a Seeker?”

   The man’s voice came from the entire room, or seemed to. Naomi looked for its source, speechless.

   “Answer me or you’ll take on the same pose as that dirty thing.”

   “I . . . what . . .”

   He appeared in front of her, already in flight. He tackled Naomi against the wall and crossed two swords at her throat.

   “Answer me!”

   “I’m not!”

   “How do I know you’re not just saying that?”

   “Go on with that mindset and you’ll eventually accuse the entire continent of being Seekers.”

   Naomi felt blood trickle down her neck.

   “Most Seekers are born with adept skill in some area. Your reflexes are beyond human. You dodged a bullet from point blank.”

   “How can I prove I’m not one, then?” Naomi played it calm. One wrong word would kill her.

   “A Seeker is coming to this town tomorrow, to take out the bug of a man you defeated. Ambush her, kill her, and bring me her head.”

Chapter 2: The Seeker

   “Kill a Seeker?” Naomi repeated. “Bring you her head?”

   “Psh.” The man sheathed his swords and let Naomi stand. “Didn’t I say it clearly enough?”

   “You did. You killed the ripper. How? Why?”

   The man sighed. “You’re averting yourself from the obvious. If that thing got out the window, it’d kill the entire population of the city. You just had to be an idiot and lead it to an exit, didn’t you? That’s the kind of stupid things a Seeker would do.”

   “But . . . how?”

   “You don’t have to know. Come with me. Can’t have you running out on me now.”

   The man grabbed Naomi’s wrist and pulled her along. As they descended the stairs, Naomi failed to spot Opeil anywhere. His blood was still on the floor, but there was no trail.

   “Hey. Opeil’s gone.”

   “Let him go, then. The bond is dissolved. You don’t need to worry about him. You wanna walk by yourself now? I don’t wanna give any people the wrong impression.”

   Naomi followed him to an inn about a mile away from Opeil’s factory. The receptionist watched the pair as they came in the door, chatting happily about Naomi’s schooling and social life.

“Uncle Sam, you know I’m not into that kinda stuff!”

“Aha—of course you are! All you kids are these days. When was the last time any of you had a study group? What’s the deal with these party things?”

“It’s for all the kids who wanna be known for sum’n or other. But I told you!—I’m not into it.”
 When they reached the second floor, both of them shut up.

   “This one,” the man said.

   He closed the door and sat in a chair on the far side of the room, where he took a half-finished wood sculpture and began to carve it.

   “Can I know your name if I’m going to be doing an assassination for you?”

   “Aaron. Now, Naomi, have you read me by now?”

   “Yes. Thanks for being honest with me.”

   In truth, Naomi couldn’t tell a single thing about this man aside from his appearance and the fact that he was not a liar. He was, as Naomi had played off earlier, in his late thirties, about the age an uncle would be to her. His face was rugged, but handsome. He had a short beard and curly brown hair that hadn’t begun to thin yet. He was a foot taller than Naomi at around six feet and five inches. His eyes were violet, like hers, but he squinted more. What bugged Naomi was the fact that he wore no weapons and his clothes were too light to conceal the swords he had used before.

   “Aaron. Where are your swords?”

   “Somewhere close. Hidden. You won’t find them if you look. I’ll give you your weapons back tomorrow.”

   Twice in a day, Naomi had lost her weapons to sneaky thieves. Slightly annoyed, she sat on the single bed in the room. That alone gave her a bad feeling.

   “Aaron, you’re not gonna do anything weird to me, are you?”


   His tone was truthful, but just as emotionless as everything else he said or did.

   “Hm . . . are you sure?”

   “You idiot. You make it sound like you want me to.”

   “No! I just wasn’t sure if you were honest.”

   Aaron sighed. “I see where you’re coming from. Listen. I have a daughter about your age. Doing ‘something weird’ to you would feel like doing the same to her.  So don’t even think about it.”

   “Well, thanks. But . . . can you answer some questions about the job?”

   “Depends on the questions.”

   Naomi pulled her first question. “The Seeker I’m to kill is female. It’d help a lot to know her name. A description wouldn’t hurt either.”

   “Lanei. She’s never revealed her last name. She’s twenty-six years old, average height and build. Dark hair. Almost blue. Tanned skin—a native to Tivali.”

   “Tivali. She’s western, then.”

   “From that, you should be able to pick up a noticeable accent.”

   Naomi proceeded to her next question. “Why are you having me kill her? Just killing a ripper is a feat I haven’t even sought. You could easily do it yourself.”

   Aaron set down his carving knife. He hesitated a moment. Then, “You don’t need to know. Aside from proving yourself not a Seeker, there are other reasons.”

   “Then,” said Naomi, “are any of those other reasons things that could harm me if I don’t know about them?”


   “And . . . is there anything I should or shouldn’t do?”

   “Do not involve innocent people,” Aaron replied immediately, even before Naomi had stopped speaking. “Never involve anyone who doesn’t need to be involved.”

   “All right. I have one more question.”


   “Without a reason to kill her, all I’m doing is murdering an innocent woman. Please tell me your reasons.”

   “She is a Seeker. She is, whether she intends it or not, destroying the world. I want to prevent that, and I hope you would as well.”

   “Additionally, if I can’t kill her, you’ll determine me to be a Seeker and kill me.”

   “I would rather that didn’t happen.”

   For the first time, Naomi got a good reading on Aaron. One of his “other reasons” was simple: he didn’t want to take a human life with his own hands.


   Lanei’s presence was hard not to notice. People crowded around her the moment she arrived, blocking any chance of assassination without involving innocents. Naomi watched from the window of the inn, Aaron beside her.

   “You’re going through with this just to save your own life,” Aaron said. “Don’t. You’re not killing her for no reason.”

   “Truthfully,” said Naomi, “I’m not keen on the Seeker and anti-Seeker disputes. I’m a mercenary.”

   “Anti-Seeker? Is that the name we’re labeled with?”

   “I haven’t heard an alternative.”

   At that point, Lanei was entering the tavern. “Info on Opeil,” Aaron stated.

   “I could offer her some intel.”

   “Too shady. You have the insight of a seasoned scout. Use it.”

   Naomi thought for a moment. “I’ll need to talk to her. Unless she’s impassive as you, I’ll figure out a way from there. Or I could lead her away somehow, maybe faking an injury. I have another question first, though.”

   “Ask it.”

   “Can you use materialization?”

   “You figured it out, finally.”

   “Yeah.” Naomi extended her hand. “I want my weapons. But with one catch.”

   “You’re making a catch by yourself?”

   “Of course. I can approach Lanei easier if I’m unarmed. Can you give me my stuff through materialization when I give the signal?”

   “That’s possible. What’s the signal?”

   Naomi thought on it. “That depends. I can probably guide her into a deserted place, and I’ll need you to be somewhere where you can hear me. When I give the signal, I want you to materialize my weapons. Into my hands, if possible.”

   “I can do that. But what’s the signal?”


   Lanei exited the tavern. Having found out that her target was no longer a threat, she turned to leave the city.


   The Seeker looked back. A brown-haired girl dressed in a casual sleeveless and slacks was standing behind her, sweating and breathing hard, clutching her left arm. Blood ran down it from whatever wound her hand covered. Lanei ran to her.

   “What happened? Are you all right?”

   The girl’s eyes reflected fear even before her quivering voice came out. “In an alley . . . I saw a guy . . . raping my friend.” She paused to breathe. “I . . . tried to help her.”

   “Where? Can you show me? No—if you don’t want to, you don’t—”

   “No, I can show you. It’s over here . . .”

   The girl started running, tripped over her own feet once, but kept going. She led Lanei to an alleyway near the middle of town.  She stopped in front of it and looked in. She swallowed once, then began to cry. Lanei looked in after her.

   “She’s gone . . .”

   “Hey, don’t cry. We’ll find your friend. Maybe we can find something in the alley that’ll help us find her.”

   Lanei searched the alley, the girl following her from a short distance. After a few minutes, the girl said, “Hey . . . up there!”

   The girl was pointing in the air, at the sunny sky.

   “What do you see?”

   Lanei turned back to the girl, but before she could register the evil-eyed glare and the dark metal gun pointed at her chest, she realized that she had already been shot.

   Naomi lowered her gun and watched Lanei fall. She caught herself with her arms and looked up at Naomi. Her expression held no anger, but only disbelief. Naomi let the gun fall from her hands.

   “You didn’t . . . want to do this . . .” Lanei gasped out, her voice weakening. Naomi hesitated, but shook her head. She made no effort to hide her tears. They had been real from the time she looked into the alley, though not for the reason she had portrayed.

   Lanei reached out toward Naomi. Her lips parted as she tried to say something, but her voice was gone. She died a few seconds later.

   For a moment, Naomi stood in place. The thoughts sweeping through her mind were overpowering her. She struggled to keep a grip them, but there was no helping it. She had committed murder to save her own life. Falling to her knees, she barely noticed Aaron drop down in front of her.

   “You don’t have time to sit around,” he said, pulling her up. “Come on. If you get caught, you’ll be executed.”

   “No . . .”

   Aaron pulled Naomi out the back of the alley and led her into the building he had been in earlier. There, he left her alone and walked away. Naomi had no idea where he went, but she didn’t care. Alone in the dark room, she tried to think, but all she could concentrate on was the assassination. She tried not to think and looked around the room. There were stairs in one corner, but no footsteps from above. Two chairs sat on opposite ends of the room. The floor had no carpet and was dusty. Aaron’s footprints were absent, but Naomi could see hers well enough.  An old chair lay on its back to her right, and beside it was an upright table. A single book was on it. Eager to get her mind off killing and murder, Naomi picked it up.

The Seekers: Holy Warriors or Mad Killers?

   She could make a judgment for herself. Had she killed a crusader or a murderer? Thinking about it, she realized that Aaron must have put this book in here just for that reason. Still, she trusted her ability to decipher biased information.  Flipping the book open, she began reading.



   Naomi heard footsteps behind her.

   “You’re a jerk.”

   “For making you kill the Seeker?”

   “Yeah. But I read that book you put here.”

   Aaron waited, taking a seat. Naomi did the same.

   “And . . . I believe that, as good as their intentions are, the Seekers are basing too much on unproven facts and theories. You were right. They’re not ‘destroying’ the world, but they’re harming innocent people with their work. I can’t let them do that. The incident in Rivan—three hundred innocents killed by one Seeker, and the original target escaped! And in Eagle’s Eye—half the city was destroyed. And . . . that last chapter . . .”

   “Yes,” Aaron said. “All of what they’re doing—their entire cause depends on the assumption that they’ll find Seion.”

   “Which is why they’re called Seekers. Seion Seekers. The book did its share of uplifting them, though. Did you read the part about the angel?”

   Aaron smiled for the first time since Naomi had met him. “You sound just like my daughter now—telling me about a book she liked.”

   Naomi still held the book in her hand. “Can we stop the Seekers somehow? Is there a way to do it without killing them?”

   “We can stop them. However, we can’t negotiate. We ‘anti-Seekers’ have tried time after time, and you’ve seen the avail. Taking prisoners would be useless, as we have no place to keep them—no base of operations.”

   “True.  The Seekers have all of Treviri to use.”

   Aaron leaned over and took the book from Naomi. He opened it and flipped a few pages. When he looked up, Naomi was staring at it.

   “You really like this book?”

   Catching herself, Naomi sat back in her chair. “Actually, I do.”

   “Canien Wend is a great author.” Aaron paused, looking at Naomi. “You like reading?”

   Naomi nodded.

   “I’m sorry.”

   “Wait. What for?”

   “I threatened you with death if you didn’t kill a person. I made myself as bad as a Seeker. Involving innocent people in my fights—and girls at that!”

   “There’s that. That and you waited till after I’d killed her to show me why I had to do it.”

   “It was unfair of me,” Aaron said. “You’re free to walk out of here right now. I killed Lanei—you’re just a bystander. You can still go back to a normal life.”

   “No. I didn’t live a normal life to begin with. It’s too late to turn back now. I’ve killed a Seeker and established my position against them.”

   Aaron smiled slightly, but it was forced. “I still feel like I’ve made a bad choice here.”

   “No! Aaron, I started working as a mercenary for two reasons—one was to enforce what’s right. And that’s what I’ll do.”

   Aaron gave the book back. “Then, Naomi Revertere, welcome to the ‘anti-Seekers.’”

I'm working on the third chapter right now, and I'm almost done writing out the ending. I'll update as soon as I finish chapter three.
« Last Edit: May 25, 2015, 09:37:41 AM by boe »

Level 82
ok this might be a bit late, but after reading chapter 1, everything seems to happen very suddenly. Like when Naomi walks into the bad guys factory everyone turns from bad to good pretty fast to warn her about the boss. Shouldn't there be a little resistance from them? And you need a little more description (unless you're meaning for the reader to make their own setting). You could tell the reader more about the weather or something and what the tavern was built like, how many people were there? Was Opeil's factory old or new looking? Stuff like that. Apart from the lack of detail, I rather enjoyed the first chapter (haven't read the second chapter).

Level 75
Artist and Writer
Wow, first reply in a LONG time. Thanks a lot for taking the time to read it.

I've never been big on description, but I know I should work on it. When I write, I have these things visualized, but I can always tell I'm not getting them down right on Word--like, I describe something, forget another. I almost always forget the weather. I really, really have to work on that.

Naomi's supposed to avoid a lot of potential fights with charisma and such, but I agree with you on the resistance thing. I guess it's good that everyone hates Opeil (even his guard), but I just now realized that a guy like him would hire people similar to himself. Even so, they'd have their own morals and all. Man, I'm going in circles. Revisions are in order, I believe.

Thanks again.

Level 82
Read chapter two. As Naomi liked the book, I'm liking the story. While yeah, in chapter 2 things still go a bit fast (things happen too suddenly, I mean what happened? The guy was just there after she finds the dead ripper) it's quite creative how you made all the places/names/history. Again, the description is lacking (but you wrote this before I told you...). Thanks for your effort in making this.

RMRK's dad
Level 86
You know, I think its all gonna be okay.
For going the distance for a balanced breakfast.Project of the Month winner for June 2009For being a noted contributor to the RMRK Wiki2013 Best WriterSilver Writing ReviewerSecret Santa 2013 Participant
I just got around to reading your work, and I would say that it is quite enjoyable. As detailed above, descriptives could be used more liberally; the settings are not fleshed out well. Also, some characters are obviously simple (like the factory guard) and then suddenly have a sophistocated vocabulary.  Lastly, some of the dialogue between Naomi and Opeil is kinda flat, like when he says " I'm a sorcerer AND a martial artist. I'd have rather read "I can blast you as easily as I can beat you to death", or something similar.

Other than that, it was like I was reading a RObert Jordan novel. Original names, original plot, no over-the-top magic to the abilities of the characters. Ever consider making a RM game out of it?

Level 75
Artist and Writer
I've considered making a game, but I don't have the scripting knowledge to do all the stuff I wanted, i.e. a turn-based active battle system. (Like, you can defend yourself during the enemy's turn without selecting the DEFEND button. Kinda like Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga.)

I tend to fail at dialogue when I don't care much about a character. Obviously, I didn't care much for Opeil. My favorite characters haven't been introduced yet. (Yes . . . I have favorites among my own characters *shrug*)

I'd forgotten I'd posted a story here. I'll have to keep working on it now . . . I've only got up to chapter 4 so far.

Level 75
Artist and Writer
I don't know why I didn't update earlier. Here's chapters 3 and 4.

Spoiler for:
Chapter 3: Regret

Naomi didn't want to be around when Lanei's body was found, but she realized a little too late that it had taken her a few hours to finish the book.

"Yeah, they found her," Aaron said as Naomi peeked out from the inn window. "Now I'd advise you to keep that gun hidden. You just had to use one of the most uncommon weapons on the continent, didn't you?"

"Excuse me, but it's not every day I go planning how to kill someone the right way."

"No. Of course not."

Naomi kept staring out the window. Every word Aaron said sounded regretful. Every one of her own thoughts was conflicted. She'd chosen her path, and wouldn't back away from it. What stung more than anything was the despair she'd brought upon the people in the village. Although she hadn't spoken to anyone save Aaron since the assassination, she could easily see that no one was smiling anymore. People wouldn't speak with each other. They'd give passing glances and scuffle away, minding their own business. Nobody went near the alley where Lanei's body had been found. Occasionally, Naomi saw people crying as they walked, some trying to hide their tears, some not.

Seekers were heroes to normal people. Naomi knew that much, accepted it, and respected it. She respected the Seekers herself. Wherever they went, they were followed by hope and happiness. If one was killed, of course fear would ensue.

"Don't regret it," Aaron said.

"I'm not regretting it. I'm reflecting upon it."

"They'll give you another assignment now."


"Us. The 'Anti-Seekers.' We'll meet with an informant in a few hours, he'll tell you who you need to take out, and where he is."

Informant? Naomi pondered it. If someone was collecting information on Seekers, why couldn't he kill them himself? Assassination didn't require much—if any—skill if done correctly. That aside, if Aaron didn't want to kill anyone, why was he scheduled to meet an informant? Had he contacted someone after Naomi had agreed to work for him?

"I talked to him—told him about you."

"You did that while I was reading, didn't you?"


"How much did you tell him?" Naomi didn't know anything about this informant. For all she knew, he could be a double agent, or he could leak something better kept secret.



"He knows, at least, that there's a second anti-Seeker in town and that 'he' is the one who killed Lanei."

"Aaron. You should tell me these things. I need to know as much as I can. How did you kill the ripper, for one. If I come across one as I am now—no joke, I'll die."

"Experience," Aaron answered. When Naomi looked at him, she saw that he had finished the previous day's sculpture and had moved on to a new one. "Practice a lot. It takes years—no, just months if you train right. You learn things. You'll wish you hadn't learned some of them. You'll see things that'll change you. Forever."

"More than I've already seen?"

"You're an 'anti-Seeker.' Your whole life now is a war."

Naomi let the statement sink in and watched Aaron's woodworking. As the chips fell away, Naomi lost her sense of time in the rhythmic clunks of the chisel on wood. It was starting to resemble a bird that Naomi identified as a dove. Its mostly-finished wings were spread and raised, its head pointed into the air. It looked like it could take flight at any time, and for a moment, Naomi imagined it doing just that.

"We need to go," Aaron said, breaking into Naomi's daydream. His bird disappeared and he left the room, Naomi in tow.

"Who's this 'informant' guy?" she asked. "Is he an anti-Seeker, too? Sounds like you don't trust him much, though."

"He's not an anti-Seeker," said Aaron. "And I don't trust him with any information about you, though he knows everything about me." He and Naomi maneuvered around a few people in the lobby and left the inn. The streets were the same as they'd been since the assassination. Naomi noticed Aaron staring at one person—a man about his own age who was speaking with a few guards.

"He's an independent information guru—doesn't favor either side. He doesn't like the Seekers, but he doesn't like us either. If there's hype about a Seeker, he'll tell an anti-Seeker. And vice versa."

Aaron approached the guy near the guards. All of them turned to face him.

"Aaron," said the man in a tone halfway between mindless fury and forced control. "You didn't do this. Who did?"

"I don't know. Nathan was in town, though."

"Who's Nathan?"

"You didn't hear? One more anti-Seeker came to town a few days ago. He could have done it. I haven't contacted him, though. It's entirely possible that it was a third-party job. Maybe it was Opeil?"

"Nonsense. You know who did it! Lanei wouldn't be killed by any low-rate mercenary or scum like Opeil."

"Opeil kept a ripper in a control room, Paul. He even had assets I didn't foresee. As you and Lanei came here with the same purpose as I did, I decided not to interfere."

The man—Paul—looked away for a moment. "A third party could be dangerous to you as well, depending on the complications."

"Anything from a serial killer to just a kid who found a gun on the street."

"Right. And Aaron . . . about Opeil. Seems he escaped without his right arm. It was you who took him out initially, right?"

"Nope. I'd have to assume that was Nathan."

Paul cast him a sour look. "Don't say that so casually—that guy could have killed Lanei! I know you couldn't have cared less what happened to her, but she was my friend! If I do find this Nathan guy, I'll kill him."

Throughout this conversation, Naomi had kept her head down. She looked up at Paul when he finished speaking.

"You brought Elina with you? Aaron, please—don't get her involved in these sorts of things."

"She's not involved. I brought her with me because I suspected you people to raid my house."

"I'd fight to the death to protect your daughter, Aaron. You know I wouldn't let anyone touch her."

Aaron scoffed. "Protect my daughter but plan to kill me. You lead quite an ironic life, Paul."

"And you're one to talk?"

"Ha. I suppose so."

Paul cast a sad smile at Naomi and turned away. As he left the city, Naomi could hear his brisk, metallic footsteps on the cobblestone street.  She held a hand to her chest. The footsteps matched her heartbeat.

"Aaron," said Naomi. "You three have the most awkward relationship I've ever seen."

"How so?" Aaron questioned as he began walking toward a three-story stone building. A sign beside the door read:

Paek Residence

"You and Paul both love your daughter—Elina."

"I'll tell you that story sometime if you're interested. In any case, you look almost exactly like her. Continue."

"That, and you plan to kill him. Paul, that is. I figure, if Elina loves both of you as much as you love her, either of your deaths will cause enormous pain to her . . ."

"Go on."

". . . which is why neither of you are dead yet. Even though he's a Seeker and you're an anti-Seeker."

Aaron opened the door to the Paek residence, but paused for a moment. "Stay here," he told Naomi. "I'll be out in a few minutes."

The door swung shut behind him. Naomi walked across the street and looked around the city. Only days ago, she had been wandering the place, donned in a cloak and looking for people who needed help. Now she was part of a war that involved almost all if the continent—if not all of it. There were multiple sides, the prominent ones being the Seekers, the anti-Seekers, and the independents. Those aside, there were people who couldn't care less and people who hated both.

"Just politics to the extreme," Naomi muttered to herself.

But in politics, both sides had equal platforms—the same funds and the same assets, whereas the Seekers had multiple strongholds, powerful magic users, and lots of money. The anti-Seekers had, at most, money for a few horses, some equipment, and some food.

I just joined a war halfway through on the losing side, Naomi realized. This war probably isn't about to be changed by one person—me, in this case. There isn't any one Seeker whose death could end it all. That means I could give it my all, do everything right, exceed everyone's expectations and standards, but my side could still lose. Of course I'm prepared for that. I'd prefer it not to happen, though.

About five minutes passed before Aaron came out of the house. He met Naomi where she stood.

"Let's move," he said. "We'll have to get over to Mariim by tomorrow night."

Spoiler for:
Chapter 4: End of the Road

   The road to Mariim was long, but Naomi had traveled longer distances in less time on horseback. This time, though, they were on foot. The path was made of dirt, and in some areas, gravel. Occasionally, they passed a building or another traveler. For the most part, their surroundings were trees and plains. The gentle wash of a river came from somewhere out of sight. Birds of various kinds sang their respective melodies.

   “We’ll be passing through a forest in a few miles,” said Aaron. “Be on your guard when we do. It’s very common for highwaymen and bandits to camp out there and jump travelers.”

   “There’s another way around—to Mariim, at least. Why don’t we take that?”

   “Through the forest is faster. We can handle common thugs. It won’t be any trouble.”

   That was easy for him to say. He could disappear if he wanted to. He was probably more familiar with the area—Naomi had only been there once in her life.

   “Naomi. You asked me to tell you some things?”

   “Huh? Oh, yeah. I did. What is it?”

   Aaron pulled a folded sheet of paper from his pocket. “Ever hear of the ‘Syara’ family?”

   “No, I don’t recall. Syara being the last name?”

   “Quentin Syara . . .?”

   Naomi ran the name through her head. “Um . . . actually, I remember hearing it somewhere. He was an angel born without wings—that’s all I can remember.”

   “Look up,” Aaron said without looking up himself. Naomi did. She couldn’t see it all due to the sun, but she was sure she saw a human silhouette in the light. With wings.

   “An angel!?”

   “You’ve never seen an angel before?”

   “No,” Naomi said in awe, still staring upward. “It’s amazing.”

   “More than a bird, less than a human—according to some. According to others, an angel is more than human and less than God.”

   Naomi didn’t take her eyes off the angel. She couldn’t. “Which side do you believe?” she asked.

   “The latter. Those who believe angels less than man are those who have never given one the chance to speak.”

   The angel disappeared over the trees to the east. Naomi looked for it through the branches, but they were too thick. “Where’s it going?” she asked.


   “I can’t tell—male or female.”

   “That one was male. He was headed toward Yassul or Ilgue. Both hunting towns.”

   Naomi watched the trees as she walked, hoping to get another glimpse of the angel. She never did. Something else caught her eye just as she and Aaron walked into a tunnel of trees. A glint of sliver shined among the shadows cast from the leaf canopy above. Naomi stopped. Aaron followed suit.

   “Aaron. There are wires all over the place.”

   “I see them. There are three bandits to our left and three to our right. They’ve got wires set up no higher than neck level, probably aimed at horses. Ready your weapons, Naomi, and turn left.”

   Aaron was there one moment and gone the next. Naomi heard rustling in the trees, and knew what was coming. She drew her gun in one hand and her knife in the other. Something was off about this situation. Naomi knew where the bandits were, and where their wires were, but there was one thing she couldn’t place.

   “Aaron . . .?”

   “Focus, Naomi. It’s their weapons. Stay alert.”

   His voice was disembodied, but it seemed to come from behind her. Now facing the trees, Naomi identified two of the bandits. They were behind thick trees. Raising her gun, she fired once at one of them. Within a second, they had retaliated. Naomi felt a sharp sting in her leg. It was no more painful than a bee sting, but when she tried to move to dodge the next one, her body wouldn’t react. More needles came from the trees, targeting areas of exposed skin. Three made contact, and Naomi fell to her knees. She couldn’t move her legs—her muscles wouldn’t respond. Her right arm was useless as well. Her left hand had been grazed, and it was shaking uncontrollably.

   Aaron’s voice came again. “The wires are down, Naomi.”

   Did he want her to run? She couldn’t! The needles flew at her in uneven intervals, though always aiming for different place. She could dodge most of them by rolling, but when one slid into her forehead, it was all over. Her vision clouded over and she felt faint. She couldn’t see and she couldn’t move—couldn’t move anything—but she could hear. Lying face-up, she heard light whistles overhead. The natural air was still, but there was movement all around. Aaron was moving quickly, but so were two . . . no, three other people. The sound of blades being drawn was ominous at first, but three one-sided swings that cleaved nothing but air brought relief to Naomi. Aaron was invisible, she knew. She thought. Repeated, frustrated grunts and short battle cries became increasingly aggravated and desperate, accompanied by the choppy whooshes of inaccurate swings.

   The soft thumps came consecutively, directly after three hard cracks of bone against bone. Aaron had taken out three bandits with his bare hands—or at least Naomi assumed he had. She hadn’t heard anything hinting toward his use of weapons.

   “You three,” Aaron called. “Point those at me and I’ll crush this man’s throat. Throw them out here.”

   The bandits in the trees threw their weapons out. Naomi wanted to see them, but she was blind, and slowly, even her hearing was fading.  The metallic, chain-like clunks they made on the dirt road suggested many pieces to the equipment.

   The last thing Naomi heard before sleep overtook her was the click of her own gun being cocked.


   She woke to the sound of crackling fire, the feeling of warm grass beneath her back, and the smell of roasting meat.

   “How long has it been since you ate?” Aaron asked her. He was seated on a log beside a moderate campfire, slowly twirling two large pieces of meat on a spit over the flames. The sky was dark and the area around the campfire gradually blended into the pitch black of an eastern night.

   “Too long,” Naomi answered, getting on her knees. Her body was stiffer than she was used to, and her muscles ached. Her head was clear, though, and so was her stomach. “What are we eating?”

   “Rabbit. Can you walk?”

   Naomi slowly got to her feet and tested her legs. They were stable enough, despite a few stumbles as she approached the fire.

   “What happened to the bandits?”

   “They ran away.”

   Aaron handed Naomi her gun. She took it and looked inside the chamber. Two slots were empty.

   “Aaron, did you shoot one of them?”


   “But didn’t they run away?”

   “One tried to kill you.”

   “Oh.” Naomi could infer what had happened, and she didn’t want to know the details. “You talked about Quentin Syara before. What were you saying about him? Is he part of our mission?”

   “No. His daughter is.”

   Naomi couldn’t remember anything about Quentin Syara, but she was positive she had heard the name before. She let it go. She’d remember it eventually.

   “So, what are we supposed to do? And how?”

   Aaron handed Naomi a piece of meat on a spit and said, “She’s thirteen years old now. Of course, she’s a full angel. She can fly, and she has an excellent forte in archery. Our primary mission is to prevent her from becoming a Seeker. While we’re in Mariim, though, there are three people you need to kill.”

   Naomi choked on the meat. She wanted to protest, but her mouth was full.

   “I don’t want to drag you into the business of assassination. But there’s a war going on, and every man or woman counts in this battle.”

   Naomi swallowed her food, but said nothing.

   “After the war, you should find a good man and settle down in some neutral region where there’s as little conflict as possible. For now, kill. Repent later."


   Naomi lifted her knife. She could see her reflection in the side of the blade. She was different. She recognized herself, but she didn’t look like she had just a week ago. She looked tired, but didn’t feel tired at all. Without a word, she took a whetstone from her pocket and drew her knife across it. It was the first time she had ever sharpened her blade.

   “Naomi, may I see your gun?”

   She handed it over. Aaron looked it over for a moment. “How did you get this?” he asked.

   “It was my dad’s. He made it three years ago. Then he left.”

   Aaron opened the chamber and removed a bullet. “And the bullets?”

   “I took them from my dad’s workshop when I left.”

   “How many do you have?”

   “I started with thirty-six. I suppose I have thirty-one now.”

   Aaron handed the gun back. “When we get to Mariim, you should find a good craftsman and buy a steamgun.”

   Naomi set her knife and whetstone down and examined her gun again. “But this was free,” she said. “Steamguns are expensive. Plus, don’t I have to lug around a cart with a boiler?”

   “The reason guns are rare on this continent is because they’re impractical. Even with steamguns, you could only make practical use of one if you fire accurately. You need to be sure of your kill, or it’s a waste. Naomi, you’ve wasted one bullet out of three I know you’ve used.”

   “Wait. Which one?”

   “You fired at the concealed bandit.”

   Naomi didn’t argue. It was true. “I’ll be careful,” she assured him.

   “Resolve yourself to that, and take it to heart. Quickly. We’ll be in Mariim tomorrow afternoon.”

   Naomi was sure she wouldn’t be able to sleep in her present condition. She curled up in the spot she had woken up in. A moment later, she was asleep.