The Sharpening I (prelude)
The assassin skidded to halt in the darkness. Squinting into the black depths of this raw rock chamber revealed nothing but the silhouettes of the pillars holding up its sloping vault.
Yet he knew the three who pursued him were lurking just out of sight.
Over the pounding of blood in his temples he could just barely make out the creak of leather as the hunters shifted position. The sound was so subtle he might have imagined it, and its location was nearly impossible to determine.
Nearly, but not quite. Not for one of the Chimera.
He focused inward, slipping into a deep reserve of practiced calm. He became intensely aware of every fibre of his being, until he was as one with each of the systems at work within his body.
Samatha. Entering the Ocean.
The assassin allowed his consciousness to expand until it merged with every sensation brushing against his skin; with the air streaming into his lungs, and with the tiny pressures playing against his eardrums.
Xa’ka-Tur. Ripples Across the Surface. Where are they?
His senses were like a great lake filling the empty space of the chamber, and he experienced in delicate waves the disturbances caused by every movement –
– a rustle of robes, oiled steel sliding from its sheath –
He exhaled. So close.
He was surrounded.
There, under the bones arches, there lies my target. If I can but pass over its threshold the Hunters must cease their pursuit...
Yet there was no way to make it past them without a fight, not past these three hunters. And so the assassin steeled himself for the inevitable, one knee grounded in a defensive posture.
It’s not over yet, not till I lay dead in the dust of this chamber.
He shifted his internal focus away from his senses and into the primal pulsing of his instincts.
Sandcat Cornered. Qar-muhasarin. Like a beast I will claw my way free.
Sensing his intentions, the hunters sprang shut their trap. One bore down upon the assassin’s back, barbed whip hissing across the stone behind her, while off to either side the other two hunters raised loaded crossbows from beneath their cloaks.
The assassin's hands darted beneath his own cloak, reaching for the tools of his deadly trade...