The small floorboards that loomed overhead, leaving only small rays of dim light from the small cracks, refused to budge like they were supposed to. The grand menagerie that the underground tunnel led to was quiet at this time of night, with only the footsteps of a lone night watch to make sound.
Evelyn let out a small slew of curses. First, her informant had lied about there being no one on duty tonight. Her mistake really; she knew better than to go on info that she didn’t check herself. she could have handled the night watch though, it wasn’t like this was her first time working around people. She was relatively good at it, modest too. No, the part that would be tricky to get through was that the floorboard wouldn’t budge, and she was hoping to get in and out without notice.
She sighed, rubbing two fingers on the bridge of her nose. Fuck it. She selected the second knife to the front of her belt, the one with a zig zag shaped blade that allowed her to easily saw through something. Or someone, if the situation called for it. She rolled the leather handle in her right hand once, then twice, and drove the blade upward into the pristine wood. It splintered a little when the knife struck, and she began cutting a hole in the floorboards large enough for her to squeeze through.
She wouldn’t be able to go out this way without someone following her. She’d figure it out though.
She pulled her jagged knife from the wood flooring, dug her fingers into the crack She’d cut, and slid the wood up and to the side of where it had been. She placed it down as quietly as possible, and pushed herself out of the hole. Evelyn pushed the wood back into place; the cracks were too wide to no notice eventually. Different exit is was.
The menagerie had once been a cathedral. It still bore the ancient white pillars and siding from its time of worship, along with its vibrant stained glass white candles that were the room’s only source of light. The menagerie felt dead at night, especially compared to its business shuffle life of the day. It was quite fitting, since its goddess of worship was dead.
The walls were lined with cages. Thick metal bars and metal wiring to keep all sorts of animals contained. Beautifully colored birds singing and fluttering their wings. Perfect bred dogs that would most likely be turned into guard dogs upon purchase. And of course, men and women who would be sold as high priced slaves. Most of them had been homeless; you could always tell by how the light in their eyes had been missing longer than they had been in cages. The others were indentures, or sons and daughters of indentures, who missed their payments. The rich men and women of Kailch were none too kind to their help.
Evelyn felt for the caged people, she really did, but she had a job to do. Alkiem Piam. May their souls find peace. She slid his knife back into his belt, and got to work.
He was looking for a girl, around her age give or take, brunette, and with a scar that rested above her top lip. Or so she’d been described. She was an estranged merchant’s daughter, grew up in the pampered life of the Stone Hills and only got her rude awakening when she’d been caught as she passed along information to Malcolm. Why he wasn’t here getting her himself, Evelyn didn’t know, but she’d received orders, and you don’t argue with orders. Evelyn would rather be shot. Again. She could practically feel the old bullet wound now.
He moved silently over to the cages. People rushed forward, reaching their arm through the bars and grasping for her like the dead grasp for the living. She sighed, “Is there anyone by the name of Liani Kholms here?” As expected, everyone claimed to be Liani, even those who were either too old to be her nor were a girl. Evelyn sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. Plan B. Anyone within the White Rose would know to answer, “Liani Kholms, step forward. You have been ordered by Madam Salle to execution.” Immediately people started filing backward in the cage, forfeiting their lies for the safety of the cage. Only one girl had not backed away; a brunette girl who looked unused to the lack of servants.
Evelyn had half a brain to leave her privileged ass in the cage to rot.
Her eyes were darker than Evelyn had anticipated them to be, more pointed and perceptive, and her skin was the color of golden honey. She was elegant even in the rags of a future slave. She stepped forward calmly, knowing there was no threat of death, and quietly waited for her to do his job. She slid the closest knife on his belt out of its sheath and began to work on the cage lock. It wasn’t much bigger than a regular pick, but it doubled as a weapon, so Evelyn preferred it over the standard White Rose lock picks most spies and thieves used. The lock clicked open, but didn’t break.
She swung the cage door open the tiniest bit, grabbed Liani, and right as the other slaves realized she was not using keys and also didn’t work at the menagerie, she swung the cage door such and set the lock back into place.
Liani tugged at the knots in her hair and brushed the dirt of her ragged brown pants, “Malcolm couldn’t be bothered to come get me herself? How considerate. What are you, one of his underlings?”
“I prefer to not be associated with him, but if you’d rather wait for him I can put you back in that cage.” Evelyn was already reaching for her knife.
Her lips curled in disgust, “Over my dead body am I getting back in that cage.”
“That can be arranged.”
“Are we leaving,” Her tone was impatient and her attitude was spoiled, “I do still have information I need to pass on, and I wouldn’t want to be caught before I got the chance to share it.”
“Yeah yeah, alright,” She moved as lightly across the room until she got to the foot of the stairs, and then climbed them to the second floor. The whole time she could hear Liani’s obnoxiously loud footsteps that she was doing absolutely nothing to conceal. At the second floor, she slid her small knife into the stained glass window’s latch and propped the window open enough for them both to crawl through onto the roof.
“You want me to climb onto the roof,” Evelyn nodded at her question, “absolutely not!”
“Why, your royal fucking highness? Are you worried to get your precious shoes dirty? Not sure if you’ve noticed yet, you’re not wearing any, so whatever discomforts you have, suck it up. Unless you want to die here.”
“I’m going to die regardless if I step onto that roof. Do you see how steep it is? I’ll slip for sure.” She crossed her arms over her chest and huffed in defiance. Of course Evelyn gets stuck with the difficult rich girl while Malcolm is off doing who knows what.
Evelyn unclipped the two curved picks she kept latched on the back of his belt. She used them for scaling tall buildings and for taking on rough weather. The picks were connected together by a leather binding that gave only enough space to move one pick after the other. She tossed them over to Liani, and she caught them on instinct; Evelyn wouldn’t need them. He’d scaled worse environments with his eyes closed.
“Do you know how to use those?” She asked Liani, pointing to the picks. She nodded, her hands already fitting into their grooved handles, “Good. Now you have no reason not to get on the roof.”
She swung one of her legs out the window, then the other, and latched one of the picks to the window sill, “When I inevitably fall and die, my ghost is going to haunt you for the rest of your days.”
“It won’t be a very long haunt then.” Evelyn watched her slide down the roof tiling slowly, using his picks to keep herself steady on the read slate. She moved to follow behind her, but the shouts of the night watch coming from the foot of the stairs.
Her shouts rang out much like the bullets she was firing from her pistol. Terrific, more bullets. He’d be up here any moment, and he’d shoot at both Evelyn and Liani. Evelyn could dodge; Liani probably could not. She needed to take out the night watch right then and there, or at least buy Liani some time.
Evelyn ran for the window, not to escape out of it, but to use it’s window sill to propel herself upward. She jumped over the banister right next to it, and the night watch locked eyes with her. She had thin eyes that looked more black than brown, with long dark hair tied to the back of her head. Her skin was pale in the dim light of the menagerie, and the dark blue of her uniform almost looked black. As she fell, Evelyn reached for the set of throwing knives she kept strapped to each arm, and threw them in her direction. Evelyn wasn’t aiming for them to be lethal, but she wouldn’t have minded if they had been.
The night watch side stepped to one side, avoiding her knives, and lifted her pistol with her arms shaking a tiny bit. She was new to this job, and clearly hadn’t been anticipating the need for her weapon on the first night of the job. She was young, too, and couldn’t have been much older than Evelyn. Odd how a girl like her wound up working security in the menagerie.
Evelyn landed softly on her feet, the hood of her cloak slipping off her head and resting on her shoulders. She didn’t need to hide her identity. She would be a reaper; she would be known, but forgotten. Evelyn had a total of sixteen knives on her whenever she went on a job. She selected the set of twin blades that curved like a scythe; they were best for disarming an enemy. At least they were when in her hands.
The night watch held her aim and pushed her finger down on the pistol’s trigger. Evelyn arched her curved knife and deflected the bullet off to her left side, watching the metal push through the wood floor and disappear, leaving only splintered wood behind. Evelyn played defensive now, deflecting the night watch’s bullets one after the other. After firing a few more times, she seemed to get smart and realize she shouldn’t be wasting ammo from that range.
Evelyn rushed forward, and the night watch replaced her standard pistol with a blade. It glittered in the moonlight, almost like a mirror, in a way Evelyn had never seen before. The night watch brought her blade up against hers, and the metal clang against each other. Evelyn twisted her wrist, catching the hilt of the blade with the inside of her curved one, and with a flick, knocked it out of the night watch’s hand. Evelyn turned her head to watch the blade fall to the floor; that was her first mistake. The blade reflected the moonlight into Evelyn’s eyes, forcing her to shut them. The night watch took this moment spring forward, catching Evelyn by surprise, and taking them both to the floor.
The night watch had her knees on Evelyn’s wrists, forcing her to drop her blades. The girl had a hint of a smile on her face, not in a mocking way, but in the way that some people just smile more than others. Evelyn wasn’t even sure if the night watch knew she was doing it. The night watch’s dark hair swayed on her right shoulder, and Evelyn had to admit up close she was beautiful.
Maybe in another life.
The night watch made a grab for her gun. Evelyn tried to push her off, but the night watch wouldn’t budge. She aimed the barrel at Evelyn’s temple, but her hands shook a little in the way someone contemplated taking their first life. Evelyn couldn’t remember if she’d wavered her first time, but that had been a long while ago. Evelyn squirmed and reached for her blade, and that moment seemed to startle the night watch.
Enough for her to pull the trigger.