“When were you ever on Morstarga?”
“I took a mission during the chthonic festival when you and Saber were on leave.”
“You never mentioned this.”
“It was a small job, nothing to mention really and all I made was… well, not very much.”
Archer looked at Blade completely engrossed on her every word and then she stopped speaking.
“No, you can’t stop there, love, keep going.”
“Oh, I wish I never took that stupid mission,” Blade said covering her eyes.
“Now I’m really dying to know the details.”
“Husley. That was his name. Why oh why did I let him talk me into it.”
Blade looked at Archer and saw the enthusiasm on his face. It gave her a new kind of rush. A strange tingling sensation sprouted from dangling bits and pieces of not-so-important information into hungry ears that relished with curiosity. It was a lesser form of adrenaline and she wanted more.
The postcard said, “Easy job, good pay. Only the best will do.” It had a time and a hand drawn map of a location. There was no name signed to it.
I tried to ignore it but I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Why was there no name? And then a thousand other questions flooded me. I felt like I was being interrogated from within my own mind and the torture wasn’t going to stop until I found answers. So instead of taking part in the chthonic festivities, I found myself in the middle of a sleepy Morstargan bar.
“What’ll it be,” the barkeep asked.
“Do you have anything stronger than flavored water?”
Judging from the looks of the place I was expecting not, but it didn’t hurt to ask. If it weren’t for the words “Deviled Water” flashing in neon pink behind the counter, I would swear I was in a church or temple or other place of worship. That’s how quiet it was.
Round tables and sitting stools dotted the room in organized randomness. Everything, except the flashing neon sign, was bright white. Predominately Morstargan customers sat whispering to one another while sipping whatever it was that they were drinking.
The barkeep smiled at my question. “Netherdweller,” he said as he reached under the counter and pulled out a bottle of something stronger.
“What did you call me?”
“No offense,” he showed me his palms in apology.
I took a sip of the drink and gagged as it burned down my throat.
“What is this?” I demanded.
“That is fire water. You requested something stronger, yes?”
I gave him a mean look. I couldn’t say anything else because I felt like I literally drank fire. I was trying desperately to play it cool but I don’t think anyone believed me.
“Perhaps you are more suited to flavored water,” the barkeep made fun but he was polite enough to exchange my drink with, what I believed to be, something more tolerable.
“The sugar cubes will stop the burning,” a voice from behind me said.
I had noticed cubes sitting on the counter and had no idea what they were or why they were there. I quickly stuck one in my mouth before turning around. A not so shabby looking Morstargan towered above me. His face was similar to the one I pounded not so long ago but with slightly larger eyes.
“May I sit next to you?”
“Sorry, I’m not really into the tall, dark, and feathery type.”
He sat down anyway.
“Maybe not, but you are here because of me.” I looked at him as if I didn’t know what he was talking about.
“The postcard. The job. The money.” He clarified.
“You apparently already know who I am. State your name and business.”
“My name is Husley and they tell me you’re the best.”
“Who are they?”
“Never mind who they are. I have sources and word is out that you will do just about anything for money.”
“I can kill on demand if that’s what you mean. Need anyone dead?”
He looked at me as if I had asked a stupid question.
“Point him out to me and then we’ll discuss price.”
“You see that lady over there? The beauty with green and white feathers perfectly framing her delicate face.” Husley pointed her out with a look in her direction.
She was sitting with a man at a table located in the back of the room. They appeared to be enjoying each other’s company, holding hands and looking generally smitten with lust. I say lust because love needs no public display of petting to be recognized. It’s powerfully subtle and cannot be seen but felt in the aura of two people as they magnetize toward each other’s hearts. I’ve experience both so I know the difference.
“Okay, she’s dead. What’s your offer?”
He eyed me with such animosity that I almost cringed. “Oh heavens no,” he said seemingly disturbed at the thought. “She should be mine but the man that she’s with is standing in my way.”
I saw where this was going. I should have declined the offer but there was money involved. I could have told him that his love interest was most likely still available… but there was money involved.
“Oh, you want me to eliminate your competition?”
The offer was good. I tasted my new drink and spat it back into the glass. It just was a little less potent than the fire water I previously had. I ignored the barkeep’s contemptuous smile and continued my conversation with my new friend. We sat there and waited until the couple left the confinements of the building.
In the meantime, we talked. His reasoning for not doing the job himself was, “I’m not a murderer” – full quote. How open of him to volunteer such information to the likes of me.
“But you are,” I said sniffing at my drink. “That’s like putting poison in someone’s glass and then claiming you didn’t kill him, the poison did. Are you looking for a clear conscience?”
“I don’t have to look. I am not a murderer,” he repeated.
“Of course not,” I agreed. I don’t make a habit of biting the hand that pays me.
“I find it very fascinating that you and your crew call yourselves Birds of Prey. You are obviously not Morstargan. If you don’t mind me asking, where is your home planet and why Birds of Prey?”
“My two crew mates are both Haboshans.”
“Ah… Heads shaped like an upside down triangle? Bluish black hair? Not to be angered?”
“Yes, that’s almost an exact description but I think the hot temperedness is a little exaggerated. My Haboshans are quite tame.”
“And you my dear? Where is your home world?”
“I am half Haboshan and half Karnalan.”
“No wonder I couldn’t place you. You have the Karnalan red hair and I’m guessing their razor sharp intellect as well.” I raised my glass to that but put it back down without drinking.
“We call ourselves Birds of Prey because we have great respect for flying predators. In a certain sense that’s what we are. The only difference is that we must use an aircraft to fly.”
“Morstargans are not predators. We are a peaceful species.”
“That is also very admirable.”
It was almost closing time before my target and his girlfriend decided to leave. We followed them out to the empty parking lot. Husley hid in a nearby tree and watched.
While I was in the bar, I had some time to think about how to eliminate Husley’s competition. A dart to the throat would have been my usual method but there’s something about the chthonic festival season that lessens the desire for a macabre solution. Being in the festive spirit I decided to give Husley his clear conscience without forfeiting my profit.
“Nice vessel you have there,” I said to my target.
“Thanks,” he thoroughly looked me up and down. His girlfriend held tighter to his arm.
“I always wondered why Morstargans needed transportation when they have wings – especially such strong wings like yours.”
I outlined the arch of his left wing with the tips of my fingers. His girlfriend stabbed me with an icy look but remained quiet.
“Partly status symbol and partly because we’re not long distance flyers.”
I could tell by his eyes, tone and overall body language that he was flattered so I gently pulled him to me, stroked the feathers around his ear and whispered seductively.
“Now where might your sweet spot be?”
He guided my hand to the nape of his neck and whispered, “Right there.” I kissed him passionately while applying just enough pressure on his neck, bringing him to that perfect place between pain and pleasure. He pulled away just long enough to release a delicious sound of euphoria before pulling me back and demanding, “Do that again.”
The sound of his girlfriend cursing and crying in the background just added to the heat’s intensity. She must have left at some point because when I was done she was gone. I didn’t say anything else to my temporary playmate. I just casually walked away.
“Wait!” he yelled after me. “What’s your name? You can’t just go like that.”
I kept walking, but looked back with malicious joy.
Hidden in the branches of a nearby tree, Husley watched as I tore his ladylove’s heart from her chest. No hands or weapons were necessary to accomplish the gory task. My seduction was bewitching and even he, watching from so far away, felt the allure of my womanly persuasion. He was protected from going into a full stupor by the sound of the damsel’s weeping. It was like a sad melody that sung sweetly to him, calling him to her rescue.
She ran away from her newly made ex-lover and me. Husley flew to her with all confidence that she would now be his and landed directed in her path of escape. She was frightened by his sudden appearance.
“Husley, where did you come from?” she asked with a gasp.
“I was just stretching my wings when I saw you. Why are you crying?” He brushed away her tears with his hand and she took a step back.
“I’d rather not say,” she said completely embarrassed.
“Oh my dear, Anjasilk, you’re safe with me.” He hugged her and softly said, “I’ll always love you.” His lips accidentally brushed against her ear and the smell of her feathers was intoxicating. He could no longer resist the forces that compelled him to kiss her but she pushed him away ferociously.
“What are you doing? I didn’t love you then and I will not love you now!”
She sprinted then took flight, soaring with incredible speed out of Husley’s visual range. It would have been pointless to chase her. He was tormented with heartache and stood frozen staring at the empty sky.
I caught up with Husley not so far away from the original spot where Anjasilk had left him heartbroken.
“Competition eliminated. I’m here to collect my money.”
“Your assignment was to kill him. He’s not dead.”
“No, my assignment was to eliminate your competition. He is no longer in your way. Besides, now you can rightfully say that your conscience is clean. There’s no blood on either of our hands.”
Husley look at me with contempt. “I will not pay you!”
I stood there in somewhat of a shock. Husley was the first client that ever refused me payment. I regretted that it would have to end with bloodshed, especially during the chthonic festival, but I handled the situation the only way I knew how.
Husley probably didn’t feel much before he closed his eyes. He suddenly saw a dagger sticking out of his chest, and then his knees buckled. I searched his body for money but found none.
“Well then, your feathers will have to make due for payment. They are so lovely.” I said to Husley’s dead body.
“Well that wasn’t very nice of Husley to not pay you,” said Archer.
“It’s hard being an assassin these days,” I answered.
“So when’s our next mission?”
“I have a meeting with the Sovereign tomorrow. If the money is good then we have a job.”
“Sovereign? He has enough money to buy the moon. The money should be good.” Archer was excited.
“We shall see.” I wasn’t so sure. Anyone with that much money was always frugal.
“I am Feather Blade. We don’t belong to any country, any planet or any world. We are hired hunters and we call ourselves Birds of Prey. We bow to no emperor, yield to no king but our loyalty can be bought. What is your offer?”
This is how I begin every consult. This mission took place on Wayward Rock. We had to use a magnifying glass to locate the planet but the Sovereign was willing to pay a high price to get his daughter back -- alive.
If you’ve never been to Wayward Rock or haven’t a clue where it is, count your blessings. It’s a swampy, hot, hellish nightmare with mosquitoes the size of your hand, snakes that can swallow you whole, and flying lizards that wouldn’t mind eating your eyeballs for breakfast. The conditions were harsh but our task was pretty simple: locate the Sovereign’s daughter, rescue her and kill her kidnappers.
The details concerning the kidnapping are actually quite funny. The Princess is really very beautiful. She reminds me of my dolls that I never played with as a youngster; pretty on the outside, hollow on the inside.
She secretly posted pictures of herself on the local greet and meet board in the town square, some of them semi-nude. This board was apparently used to help grieving widows find new husbands but the locals found other uses for it. Well, it wasn’t long before she attracted interest. The interest turned into an obsession. The obsession led to stalking and before Princess Limone knew it, her casual flirting had turned into a real problem. This is the story we got from Daddy, but I have a feeling there’s more to this than just vanity and I can’t wait to hear it from the princess’s own mouth.
So here we are floating down a murky swamp in the dark of the night looking for any sign of the Princess and clues to where her kidnappers might have hidden her or her body. There are tiny little insects drinking the water droplets off our skin, making us itchy all over, and our clothes are soaked with sweat. Our boat is old and unstable and bright eyes are all around watching us. If I didn’t know any better, I’d probably be wondering what creatures all those eyes belong to, but I know better. This is one of those rare times when ignorance is preferable to insight. Unless they attack, the less I know about the creatures behind those eyes the happier I am.
“Oh no, no, no, no” Archer Eye whispered.
“What’s the matter?” Saber Claw asked. I said the answer before Archer spoke.
“We have a leak in the boat.”
Saber pointed his flashlight at the bottom of the boat.
“A leak? Well that’s putting it nicely,” he said.
“Looks more like a big hole.”
“Any suggestions?” I was hoping that my partners would have an alternative to the obvious. Water was rushing in too fast to pail out. The boat was sinking fast.
“We’ve got to swim, love,” Archer answered.
“Oh hell,” I whispered.
Normally I would have yelled such an interjection but in our current situation, I didn’t want to startle the creatures that were hiding behind all those glowing eyes. We made sure that our head flashlights were securely attached before jumping in the dark unknowns of the swampy water.
Considering how hot and humid the air was, the water was shockingly cold. It was difficult to muzzle the splash from our entry. The noise frightened the animals. Eyes shifted. The bushes, plants, and branches rustled. I heard a twig snap. Clicking noises moved closer to us.
The three of us treaded water with our backs touching. We automatically formed what we called our circular position of defense. This way no one’s back was left unguarded. On land this method of defense was 97% effective but being suspended between air and water made things more difficult. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that until much later.
“Well, so much for being quiet” said Saber. His sharp curved sword poised for action. Except for their eyes, things we could hardly see surrounded us.
“Now what do we do, love?” Archer asked.
“Now what do we do, Saber?” not having a clue, I passed on the question.
“Oh Crap! We just moved to the bottom the food chain, didn’t we?” said Saber.
“Did you guys feel that?” Archer drew his bow.
“Feel what?” I asked.
“Something went passed my head”
“I didn’t see or hear anything, Archer.”
“Me neither,” said Saber.
We swam around in a circle, straining our eyes. The lights on our foreheads were too dim to properly see in the intense darkness.
Nothing. The clicking stopped. Most of the glowing eyes disappeared. No rustling in the bushes. All was quiet.
“Something’s not right,” Archer Eye whispered and just as he finished the sentence I heard Saber yell.
“Shoot it! Kill it! Let me go you ugly dragon!”
I grabbed onto Saber’s feet and tried pulling him back in the water. A flying lizard had lifted him out of the swamp. The dragon had held onto Saber’s hand in which he was holding his sword. This made it difficult for him to defend himself. Archer aimed his bow and shot at the creature but his arrows bounced off of its thick, scaly skin and succeeded only in enraging the lizard. It made a loud ferocious noise, twisted and turned to make us let go of his dinner and started spitting down at us. I held onto Saber as tight as I could but some of its saliva caught my shoulder and my skin began to burn.
“Archer, it’s no use, help me pull Saber away from it!” With his help, we were both able to pull Saber a little closer to the water, but the creature wouldn’t give up.
“Saber!” Archer yelled. “Can you reach your sword with your other hand?”
“It’s worth a try,” Saber yelled back. His furthest reach was just millimeters away from his weapon.
“I can’t,” he yelled back. “Don’t let go of me!”
“Drop it and I’ll throw it back up to you.”
Archer let go of Saber’s feet so that he could catch his sword. The dragon felt the pull lighten and took advantage of it. It twisted and pulled harder but I pulled down with all my might.
“Hurry up!” I screamed fearing that I would lose my grip.
“Now!” Saber signaled.
Archer fearlessly caught it and immediately threw it back up, but I was out matched and Saber slipped out of my hands.
“No! No!” I was frantic.
I watch with a heavy heart as the animal started flying away with our friend. Luckily, he had caught his sword just in time and with a swift, mighty swing took off the lizard’s head. Both Saber and dragon fell into the swamp with a gigantic splash.
“What a rush!” Saber laughed. “I thought I was lizard food.”
“I thought you were lizard food too!” Archer teased. He and Saber splashed each other with water.
“You were lizard food. You just managed to get away. Good to have you back in one piece. I started to worry there for a minute.” Saber splashed me with water.
“Don’t get all girly on us, Blade.”
“Who are you calling girly? I could feel the fear in your feet.”
“Fear isn’t the right word. Terrified is more like it. I nearly peed on you, Blade.”
We laughed and played like children over our victory until we noticed that several of the dragon’s friends were flying in our direction.
“Dive!” I yelled looking up at the sky.
Lucky for us dragons can’t swim. The water was deep and surprisingly clean a few meters underneath the surface. We couldn’t go up, at least not for a while, so we continued our search for Princess Limone underneath. We all knew that soon we would have to risk going up for air but until then we concentrated on looking for clues to the whereabouts of the missing Princess. The lights that were attached to our foreheads lit up the water world superbly. Life forms swam past us, apparently not in the least bit interested in our existence.
I was running out of air and signaled to my friends that I was going up. I handed my head flashlight to Saber and he and Archer escorted me half way up. I was very careful and only surfaced my face for a quick second before retracting and diving back down. I signed to the others that the dragons were still there and to be careful. Each took a turn surfacing and was successful in eluding the dragons.
As we swam back down a curious fish took notice of us. We ignored it but it wouldn’t go away. It was a small little thing; yellow with a greenish blue stripe going down its back. I got annoyed and threw one of my blades at it in hopes that it would go away and leave us to our work. This was not a clever idea. The small, innocent fish grew before our eyes. It showed us its jagged teeth from within its mouth and kept growing until it was the size of… well, I don’t know but it was definitely larger than any of us.
We still couldn’t swim up so we tried swimming away from it. For such an immense fish it swam pretty slowly but it was fast enough to follow us very closely. Archer led the way swimming into a small cave. Saber and I swam in after him. The monstrous fish tried to pursue but couldn’t fit into the small opening of the cave. We watched as it angrily charged us with no avail. It became so furious that it grew even more. I wasn’t sure if the fish was unbelievably stupid or unbelievably clever. If it had let itself become a bit smaller it would have eaten us for sure. On the other hand, maybe it wasn’t hungry and just wanted to drown us. It was blocking the cave’s entrance so we couldn’t get out. We’d already been holding our breaths for quite some time and started to feel the strain on our lungs.
We swam the depths of the cave looking for another way out until I could no longer hold my breath. Saber and Archer also stopped. I could see exhaustion and hopelessness in their eyes. All my will power could not stop me from opening my mouth and gasping for air. My partners must have wondered why I was smiling until they could no longer help but gasp for air themselves. Who knew that we could breathe under water, at least under this water on Wayward Rock?
We saved our celebrations for later and continued. We had to find another way out. During our search, we came across a door that was semi-hidden in the wall of the cave. Archer looked at me for instructions and at first I was reluctant to give him the okay to open the door. Anything could have been waiting for us on the other side -- including the Princess. It was the thought of all the money that prompted my permission.
Archer gave a tug but the door wouldn’t budge. Saber pulled as hard as he could but the door still wouldn’t open. I thought I’d give it a try but instead of pulling, I gently pushed and just like that we had entrance to the mysterious realm behind the door.
Archer and Saber were a little bothered and made silly gestures that said, “Now why didn’t I think of that.”
We went in and closed the door behind us. Inside was a short hallway that led to another door. Pushing or pulling wouldn’t open it. There was a big red button next to it and we were all nervous to touch it. Red buttons, or buttons of any color, always meant trouble. We stood here for a good ten minutes before I finally pushed the button. I wasn’t about to turn back. The water that we were swimming in slowly drained out. When there was none left, the door opened automatically.
“This mission gets more interesting by the minute” Archer said. He seemed happy to be able to speak again.
“I’m surprised we’re all still alive,” said Saber.
“Think of the money, men” I said.
“There’s more to life than money, love” Archer commented.
Dear old Archer. He was the sentimental fool that would give you the shirt off his back only to shoot you with one of his arrows two minutes later to get it back and then sulk the whole day because there’s now a hole in his shirt.
“Yes, there’s also adventure” I answered.
The first thing I noticed when we entered the door was the smell. After smelling murky swamp water, frightful fish breath, scaly lizard spit, and Saber’s putrid feet, the fresh clean smell of the room was a pleasant change. It was an aroma of morning dew on blooming flowers that were tied together with ribbons of rainbow. It was a scent fit for a king, queen, sovereign, or as we soon discovered -- a princess.
We walked into what appeared to be a bedroom and found Princess Limone asleep in a snuggly position with a man, presumably her kidnapper, by her side. Archer dragged her out of bed.
“Don’t be afraid, love, we’re here to rescue you.”
“Do I look like I need rescuing to you? Don’t touch me!” Limone tried her best to wiggle out of Archer’s grip.
“Let her go!” Demanded the man, who was now safely under Saber’s sword.
“And who might you be?” I asked.
“I am her mate, Revol. She ran to me, I did not kidnap her.”
“Is this true, Princess?” I asked.
“The heart does not surrender to the logic of the mind. I am a tortured soul because I fell in love, but the heart wants what it wants. Yes, I gave myself to Revol.”
“And do you love her, Revol?” I was merely entertaining myself. I knew what his answer would be.
Revol looked deep within the Princess’s eyes as he spoke. “My passion for her burns deeper than love.” His voice was soft and his cheeks flushed a bright shade of pink.
“The Sovereign will pay me nicely for the return of his daughter and he has requested your body for double the reward. So, Revol, how much is your life worth to you?”
“If it’s money you seek, I have none. Even if I had money, I certainly would not be able to match what the good Sovereign has offered you.”
I wanted to test this thing called love so I unzipped the pouch on my person and presented him with one thousand stones. “This is pocket change but it’s yours if you say goodbye to the princess.” Revol took a minute to think about it.
“Sorry, my princess, but I’d be a fool not to take it.” He took the money and started counting it.
The Princess was hysterical. “You lizard spit!” She screamed and cried with such sorrow that I almost felt sorry for her.
“Love, you’ll find another mate,” Archer tried consoling her. I could see her agony turning into hate wrapped in a ball of anger. She looked at me with her tear stained face. I extended my hand and offered my blade. She stared at it. Her eyes flickered. Her inner devil and angel were at war and she was standing in the middle of hell.
“Limon, my princess, you’ll always have a special place in my heart,” said Revol.
“Let me mark the spot!” The princess quickly grabbed the blade and embedded it into his chest.
Saber looked at Revol’s body and shook his head. “If you had kept quiet, you might have lived.”
Acher put his hand on Limone’s shoulder. “Are you okay, love?” Her eyes were empty and her face was void of all emotion. She walked over to Revol’s body and pulled the blade out of his chest.
The princess handed it to me with trembling hands, “Thank you for letting me borrow it. Please take me home.” And just like any other woman would do, she washed the blood off her hands, combed her hair and led the way.