As the Bell Tolls

KresslackKresslack Florida, United States
A cool mountain breeze swept through the belfry of the clock tower, the calm whispering of its passage accompanying the cooing of pigeons nested within the corners. Carefully concealed within the shadows lie a black clad figure cradling a crossbow as they waited patiently, glancing out into the city below. For hours they had waited here, ensuring to arrive and take position well in advance of the festival to take place this evening.

Below in the lantern lit streets wound small groups of people slowly converging on the town square. A time honoured tradition, this festival presented the opportunity for the entire city to come together for revelry in celebration of the city’s history. As was customary for a masquerade, attendees showed up wearing a wide assortment of masks, some mundane while others appeared quite extravagant. Somewhere amidst the gathering throng of people was the target. It was merely a matter of waiting and spotting them at this point.

Of course being in the right place at the right time was only a small part of the job at hand. While they knew the target would be attending, they did not exactly know whom it was. The only information received for this contract was a small but significant detail. The target would be wearing a blue mask, fashioned after a dragon and inlaid with gold filigree. It should be easy to spot such extravagance from where the assassin lie in wait.

In the habit of being prepared, she had made sure to arrive hours ahead of the event, ensuring enough time to find the best available position and get set up without being noticed. Access to the belfry was typically kept under lock, the result of past accidents as the occasional per, whether drunk or just daring, found their way to the top. On this particular afternoon she had found it unlocked and knew her contact had delivered as promised. Now all that remained was to wait patiently and vigilantly for the target to show themselves.

As the large, intricate mechanisms of the clock tower ticked away overhead, Vex carefully scanned the assembly below. Deft fingers ran through a well rehearsed check of the crossbow cradled in her arms, ensuring it was ready for the task at hand. Painted black and carefully muffled with bits of cloth, it was every bit a reflection of its owner: cold, efficient, reliable, and most importantly, deadly. It had served her well on many a job, and tonight she expected no different.

Eyes like a hawk rove over the moving mass of gathered party goers as they moved about the square, mingling and interacting before the start of the festival. Soon the clock would strike the sixth hour of the evening, throwing the centre square below into a bustle of activity as the celebration got fully underway. She would need to find her target quickly if she were going to capitalise on the moment, using the commotion of the celebration and the noise of the clock tower to her advantage. After a few more moments her eyes alighted on a tall, well-dressed figure moving slowly through the crowd, face hidden by a blue dragon mask with gold accents. Time to go to work.

Taking firm hold of the stock, Vex carefully attached a specially designed crank mechanism to the top of the crossbow. Slowly rotating the handle clockwise, she tracked her target diligently as the string was steadily drawn back and locked into place. Detaching and setting aside the crank, she next reached to the unfurled roll that contained a small set of four well-crafted bolts, each painted black. Along the head of each bolt jutted small barbs in various directions, a feature of her own design to ensure a job well done.

Loading the crossbow carefully, she cradled it firmly and relaxed her body, focusing on controlling her breathing just as she had been taught many years ago. The target had stopped meandering through the crowd, instead standing with a small group, engaged in what appeared to be cheerful conversation. While this would make the shot much easier, it would still require all of her expertise to accomplish. Drawing a bead on her target, she carefully gauged the distance, eyes flicking briefly between the set of ribbons she had tied earlier around the square to track distance and wind. Making slight adjustments, she relaxed, her breathing becoming shallow and controlled as she prepared to take the shot.

The world around her seem to slow down as she zoned in, exercising her extreme focus on this single act that would be over in a moment. Setting fingers upon the lever that would unleash chaos, she took a single, controlled breath and held it briefly. As she prepared to squeeze the lever, her target looked towards the clock tower, moments before the final clicks that would set the chimes ringing to herald his death. It was at this moment the hairs on her nape stood on end, and everything that had moments before felt so certain, suddenly felt so very wrong.

A soft scuffing sound behind her drew her immediately out of her trance as the bells of the clock tower rang out, a cheer following from the crowd gathered below. Rolling suddenly to one side, the floor next to her erupted in a spray of stone as a crossbow bolt slammed into it, ricocheting off over the edge. Bringing her crossbow around, Vex leveled it at the chest her assailant, squeezing the lever to release the firing mechanism. The bolt leapt from the crossbow, burying itself in the attacker’s chest with a solid thud. Eyes wide with surprise, the figure stumbled backwards, clutching at the protruding bolt before tumbling over the ledge and disappearing into the darkness below.

Vex had barely a moment to think as a second assailant rushed from the shadows, a deadly glint of steel visible as a hand swept down to plunge a knife into her chest. Adjusting her grip, she swung her crossbow up, intercepting the stab and deflecting it before driving the butt of the stock into the solar plexus of the attacker. The assailant now staggered and out of breathe, Vex tossed her crossbow aside, hooking a foot behind the large man’s ankle and sweeping his legs out from under him. As he toppled backwards and slammed heavily into the stone slabs floor, she tensed her entire body, performing a smooth kip-up to bring her to her feet.

Adrenaline surging through her body, Vex quickly drew her knives, crouching low as she lunged towards the figure on the floor with a deadly hiss of frustration. Lashing out in a blur, she feigned an attack to his face with one knife, smiling with satisfaction as he parried, even as her second blade slide smoothly into his side just below the ribs. With calculated precision, she turned the blade carefully, carving into the organs inside. As her victim struggled, the damage only increased, leaving him choking as blood welled in his throat before he finally fell lifeless.

Withdrawing the blade, she quickly wiped it on the black dyed shirt of the body, eyes scanning the belfry and narrowing suspiciously. How had they known she would be here? More importantly, why would they be after her? It was no secret there existed a natural rivalry between the Quisalis and Ivory Mark, but rarely did that involve direct interference with contracts. Which means….

Head swimming with possibilities and sorting through the past month’s events, Vex sheathed her knives, rising and moving to collect her crossbow. As she lean down to retrieve the weapon she heard the familiar muffled twang of a crossbow string, throwing herself flat against the floor as a bolt whistled by overhead. Glancing to one side, she spotted a dark clad figure crouched on a rooftop nearby. Two more such figures moved up from behind him, stopping to level crossbows in her direction.

Surging to her feet, Vex scrambled across the belfry, muscles aching with the effort to propel her body across the stone floor. As she neared the ledge she dove frantically, tucking and twisting her body as another bolt whistled just past her head. Reaching out to grasp the rope she had secured earlier in case he needed a quick exit, Vex gasped as something slammed into her right shoulder from behind. Pain lanced through her body and hot white flooded her vision as she tumbled over the edge. Somehow managing to catch the rope, she collided forcefully with the tower wall, slipping a couple of feet further before gripping the rope tightly and halting her fall.

A warm ache was settling into her should, the bolt buried deep. The blood pounding in her ear and the feel of warm, wet liquid clinging to her shirt told her she was bleeding heavily. Gritting her teeth with a soft groan, she hooked her foot around the rope and slowly controlled her descent, swift by steady. As her boot touched the ground, she braced herself against the wall, struggling to regain her breath.

The back alley was sparsely lit, providing the comforting cover of shadows, but she might not be the only one seeking sanctuary within them. Wounded, the hunter now being hunted, she knew it was going to be a long, arduous way to somewhere safe. Scanning the corners and doorways as her eyes adjusted once more to the darkness, she pushed herself from the wall and started jogging down the alley, moving from shadow to shadow.

She didn’t know who wanted her dead, but it seemed likely someone had set her up, and not even the gods could help them if she made it out of this alive. Disappearing into the evening gloom, the sound of celebration carried across the city as the festival sparked into full swing.

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