Tonight, Jiro faced his most difficult mission yet. If he failed, he would dishonor his temple enough to bring down the wrath of the ancestors upon both him and his master. His family name would even suffer, despite their knowing nothing of his chosen life.
He imagined his mother slapping him across the face for daring to show it. His father would slash black ink through Jiro’s name on the family history in an attempt to salvage dignity for everyone else. Master Aicho would follow that example and break Jiro’s stone tablet. That would leave him with no family and no ancestors to call upon: the ultimate dishonor.
Perched on an old stump near his target’s home, he watched and waited. One day, his skills would allow him to strike a waking mage without fear, but not this day. His only hope of completing this mission lay in exercising patience. Sleeping mages cast no spells.
Steady light inside silhouetted a figure passing the nearest window. Jiro held his breath and kept still in case they glanced out. When the light died, he crept to the ground and ran to the house. Soon, the target and his wife would go to bed. Tonight, Jiro might only watch and listen so he knew what to expect tomorrow.
At the window, he pressed himself to the base of the wall and strained to hear any sound from within. This man had so much money he could afford thin glass windows that opened, yet he chose to live in a small house on the edge of a rural village.
He heard a man and a woman speaking to each other, too quiet and distant to be understood. The closing of a door cut them off and he stood to hop to the roof. An amateur would wriggle in through the window, but Jiro knew better. This house had magical protections he could neither see nor feel, and he needed to find an unexpected way inside.
Slipping across the roof, he spotted a brick chimney and judged it too small for his body to fit through. He crossed the roof several times and found nothing. “The assassin must never leave any trace of himself behind,” Master Aicho had told him over and over. The sound of a window sliding open attracted his attention, and he ducked his head down over the edge of the roof to see who’d done it.
On the other end of the house, he saw a girl climbing out through the open window, grabbing the edge of the roof to keep from falling. Lying low against the shingles, he watched her in the dim moonlight. Her hair drifted in a light breeze. The climb forced her skirt to ride high, giving him a view of her thigh.
She stretched her long, lithe limbs to reach the ground and stepped with the grace of a dancer. When she ran away, he swung to the ground and took five steps to follow her before remembering why he’d come here. Like an apprentice, he’d let a beautiful girl dazzle him.
He hurried to her window and vaulted in through it, hoping her actions meant it had no enchantments. The room had a citrus scent he traced to a bowl of floating roses on her nightstand. unable to resist, he touched her bed and imagined her lying in it. His life held no room for a woman, but he hadn’t given up the fantasy and certainly hadn’t left behind his desires.
The rustle of her curtains against the wall interrupted his thoughts. He chided himself for daydreaming in the middle of a mission and crept to the door. Nothing stood between him and his target now.
Lee French has published several fantasy and science fiction novels, and is a member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff