Breaking The Ice

Kill someone. Anyone. Who exactly? It didn’t matter.

Ahkali pondered the nature of her mission as she stared at her chosen target from across the inn. To an outsider, her troubled gaze may have been mistaken for disgust, which of course wasn’t too unusual. Everyone had different tastes when it came to music. The Shadow Scale, known only as Dusk, had requested a single life be taken, for no other purpose than to acquaint himself with the murderer - assuming they were willing to divulge their tale. She thought to herself, “What was there, if anything, worth writing about?” Feelings were not something Ahkali put much thought into when it came to murder. “Sure, there was always the rush of a good kill, no matter how fleeting. The satisfaction which came from a job well done, perhaps, but surely nothing worth noting,” she continued to think. Dusk would likely be disappointed …. Or not. One could never really tell with the enigmatic assassin.

Free to kill at her own discretion, she chose a target already marked for death. The contract placed on his head paid little, but it wasn’t the bounty that captivated her. Rather, the generous sum of gold offered by Dusk, simply to report her thoughts to him, made this life worth taking. Curiosity, she admitted to herself, would no doubt be her secondary motive. “What could he gain from all this?” She wondered.

Her target was met with boisterous cheering of the jam-packed tavern, as he concluded his beloved song. The burly Nord bowed graciously to his cheering crowd; his long locks of unruly blond hair cascading over his face. His unkempt beard bathed in a surplus of mead, as he drank plentifully from a flagon. From the corner of his eye, he spotted her. She was a middle-aged woman of Nordic descent, and yet she appeared out of place in her simple clothes and furs. She leaned against a wooden beam, and stared into his soul; her deep blue eyes like the icy depths the Sea of Ghosts gazed at him with unnerving coldness. She appeared to be the only one in the room who wasn’t enjoying herself.

Ahkali continued to observe through eyes not her own while enduring what passed for entertainment in these parts. The crowded tavern stank of sweat, mead, and unsavory decisions. The acoustics of the building were swamped with an obnoxious racket of irritating noise, which made it near impossible to hear oneself think. Every verse he sung with his hoarse, crackling voice offended her Khajiiti ears. Although, one would be hard pressed to tell through the stoic expression of her magical disguise; a necessary precaution to blend into Windhelm.

The man looked back to his adoring fans and shook his head fiercely, dispelling the discouraging thoughts plaguing his mind. No time for that. Tonight was a night of merriment! “This is a song dedicated to the heroes of the Pact!” He bellowed joyously to the crowd.

Ahkali’s eye remained affixed to her target, studying him carefully as he sang his heart out. Rough unkempt beard; long unruly blond hair; a prominent scar running across his left eye and through the bridge of his nose. Indeed his every feature would be exactly as the dossier described. She now had visual confirmation of her target.

The Dossier itself was quite extensive. Every scrap of relevant information pertaining to the target was laid out in substantial detail - whatever helped the contract killer paint a profile of their target, whatever aided in devising a means of killing them. As near as Ahkali could tell a rival bard had arranged this contract, though who exactly remained confidential even to her. The client could’ve very well been in the room with her, but she would never know, nor did it matter. All that concerned her were the basics - who, what, where, when and how - and as for how, she was free to employ any means at her disposal. Killing the target there where he stood would be child’s play, now would not be the opportune moment - hence the importance of when.

His latest moving homage to the Pact now concluded the bard turned a glance back to where he last saw the woman - perhaps to see if his ballad had done anything to warm that icy heart of hers. But alas, she was gone. It seemed not everyone had an appreciation for fine music these days.

Hours later Ahkali’s target would be greeted by the frigid air of the night as he left the tavern, but he would not be alone as wrapped around his arm would be a young lass with dirty blond hair and sharp features utterly infatuated with the bard and hanging on his every word.

Huddled together to stave off the cold, the two trekked at a brisk pace through the sparsely populated streets in a hurry to get somewhere warmer. It was only Fall, yet the infamous perpetual chill of Eastmarch hung in the air. To save time they cut through a back alley, one overlooked by many vantage points formed from worn half finished scaffolds and broken, weather homes. Though spared from direct invasion, The Three Banners War had taken its toll on Windhelm. Every available resource down to the last scraps were allocated to the Pact, leaving little to spare for the city’s most vulnerable. Their steps echoed off the cracked stone pathway against the surrounding walls but none would be there to hear them, or so they thought.

From her hidden vantage point Ahkali took aim, the deadly tip of her arrow locked onto her target’s heart, adjusting to its intended point of contact with every subtle motion and twitch of his body. The blackened mechanisms of her dwarven recurve bow allowed for tremendous force to be placed behind the lethal projectile as she pulled back the string of the weapon.

An assassin often observed their target for hours, sometimes days. In that time every aspect of the target from their schedule down to their most insignificant twitches and habits would become intimately familiar. In many ways a sordid bond was formed, one where the victim’s final moments were laid bare before their assassin. It was enough to give some pause, as on a long enough timeline empathy inevitably formed.

But whatever part of Ahkali held the capacity for empathy had been purged through the rigors of her training long ago, leaving nothing behind but cruel indifference. What lay beyond her sights had already in her mind been dehumanized. Stripped of his humanity, all that remained was merely a target to be destroyed.

“...And you won’t find a better bard in all of Sky-“

His words are cut off abruptly - A sudden arrow taking his breath away as it penetrates his chest with a faint thud, providing a grim interjection to his last words.

The sheer force of impact swept him downward off his feet, ripping him from his companion’s grasp, and it was only upon hearing the faint echo of his skull cracking upon impact against the stone streets that her mind could register what had just happened. Stricken with paralyzing fear, the unfortunate bystander looked on in cold silence and wild eyed terror at the now lifeless body whose blood flowed through the streets.

But the woman would be silenced as well. The same ruthless calculus which demanded Ahkali strike now, deemed the woman’s silence necessary, thus her death permissible. Before she could summon the strength to scream out, her world darkened in an instant as a second arrow pierced through the back of her skull, it’s razor sharp point protruding between her eyes. Her lifeless body slumped to the cold floor like a rag. Death would claim her before pain could be registered.

Ahkali leapt down from her shadowy vantage point, her descent slowing at an unnatural rate as her feet neared the ground next to the bodies. With his last fleeting seconds of life the bard locked eyes with his killer. A single eye of fiery amber, yet gaze so cold, peered down at him from a shadowy silhouette resembling a khajiit. The same unnerving feeling from the tavern beset him as everything went dark.

With the deed now done, all that remained was to collect proof as was customary with these contracts. The bard’s nose, bearing the prominent scar, would be harvested per contract specifications. A strange arrangement for sure, but the only assurance the client had that the right man had been killed. A thumb would be severed next per the Shadow Scale’s request, to be placed at a dead drop along with her report.

The alley would be clear by the time the next patrol passed, the bodies disappeared into a nearby shipping crate, the assassin long since vanished into the shadows. What the Shadow Scale would learn of Ahkali through these murders remained to be seen...

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