A lazy wind blew through the ornamental fir trees in the grounds of the Residence. The parkland surrounding the faux-castle which Hizgrace’s father had ordered built as his Official Residence had been carefully sculptured to resemble a patch of wilderness in the European Principality of Old Earth. The plants had been specially imported, and then engineered to survive in the harsh environment of PraiseBe. The engineering had, on the whole, been successful, although the grass had turned out an interesting shade of purple.
The shadows of the fir trees whipped back and forth across the lawn. Another shadow moved amongst them, then froze as the wind died. The guard may have been drunk, but that was no cause to get careless.
A black-gloved hand removed a pair of night-glasses from a small pouch at the shadow’s waist, and raised them to eye level. The intruder lay flat in the cover provided by the hedges of the Maze and scanned the battlements for hidden weapon emplacements or alarms. It would do no good to have gotten through the force-wall around the grounds and avoided the patrol droids only to run into some rutting blaster emplacement that wasn’t on the schematics. For one thing, it would waste an entire afternoon spent hacking into the Residence’s defence systems. For another, it was likely to be an extremely career-limiting move.
The intruder changed the frequency of the glasses and swept the area of clear ground between the Maze and the castle moat. The black-swathed head nodded in grudging admiration. There was a neat grid of ultra-violet beams criss-crossing the ground. Sneaky. The technology was so outdated ninety-nine percent of invaders wouldn’t even think of looking for it. The other one percent were the Assassins Guild.
The Assassin put the glasses back in their pouch and reached into another, withdrawing a palm-sized black disk of what could be polished glass. This was slipped into a slot at the back of the intruder’s belt. There was a slight click, and a feeling of pins and needles in the small of the Assassin’s back. The dark figure rose up to float approximately a foot above the ground.
The wind came up once more, and the trees started to sway in it. Slotting a small control panel into a groove in her right glove, the Assassin skimmed forward over the empty ground, making for the shadows at the foot of the wall. No shouts were raised, no alarms activated, and, most importantly, no blaster bolts stabbed out to fry her in place.
The Residence was supposed to be a replica of an old earth baronial castle, complete with moat, drawbridge, crenelated battlements, and a turret at each corner. What had sufficed to keep out intruders fourteen hundred years ago, however, was no match for modern technology. Artistic licence, therefore, had added the ray shielding, the blaster emplacements, the floating patrol droids in the grounds, and state-of-the-art intruder detection systems.
That the Assassin had gotten this far was due to the calling in of several favours and a large donation to the Thieves Guild to obtain the access codes for the security systems, a personal fuzzer to conceal the Assassin’s movements from the sensors, and the loan of the personal anti-grav unit for the evening. (Well, it would have done, had the Thieves’ Guild existed. Which of course it doesn’t. Everyone knows that. What it had taken was a visit to Crazy Eddy’s Discount Tech Mart, some extremely hard bargaining with Eddy’s head journeyman, a large cash donation to the Non-Aligned Workers Benevolent Fund, paid to said journeyman, and a reminder to Eddy of where certain bodies were buried.)
There was one good thing that the Residence’s Gothic excrescences had going for them. They made evading visual surveillance while scaling the walls relatively easy. There was a line of shadow running up one side of the corner turret, which made a perfect cover. Switching the grav-unit to full lift, the assassin scooted up the alley of shadow and peered over the battlements onto the guard platform.
A wash of light and a burst of drunken laughter from the watch tower made the Assassin freeze in place, under the lip of the defences. A sergeant of the Palace Guard reeled out, roaring at some witticism from his men within, and staggered towards the outer wall, fumbling at the waist of his trousers. The door swung shut behind him, blocking the light from within. Leaning on the battlements with one hand, he proceeded to relieve himself over the castle wall, expounding all the while to an uncaring world that he was only a poor little working chap, but when he’d had a couple of drinks on a Saturday, Glasgow belonged to him. As he looked down to button himself, a puzzled frown creased his face.
"Whuzzat?" He enquired, leaning forward to get a better look.
A spit gun chuffed from the shadow of the tower, and the sergeant collapsed in a sodden sprawl over the battlements. The Assassin waited a beat or two for a reaction from the guard post, but none came. The guards were apparently too busy explaining to the universe that before they’d own a usurper they’d couch with the fox.
The Assassin gravitated up onto the balcony, and paused to check the Sergeant’s pulse and that he was still breathing. The drug in the crystals fired by the spit gun should keep him unconscious for hours, and the alcohol in his system would explain his stupor should any of his mates come looking for him. A rich, adenoidal snore convinced the Assassin that the guard still lived. It would be terribly bad form to kill anyone but the designated Target specified in the Guild Termination Warrant the Assassin carried in one of the pouches at her belt. The Guild prided itself on only terminating those it had been paid to.
The Assassin moved across the guard platform and peered down into the courtyard, taking care not to be silhouetted against the sky for any curious onlooker to spot. The inner court was brightly lit, and filled with a noisy, bustling crowd. The lower ranks were obviously being entertained in the courtyard whilst their betters were celebrating Hizgrace’s wedding in the comfort of the main hall. In one corner, a group of journeyman Harpers had set themselves up as a band, and the small dance floor was packed.
Around the edges of the dance floor, tables had been set up for the wedding feast, and the places around these were filled with a motley assortment of guildsmen, palace servants, and off-duty Guards. The Assassin could make out clumps of revellers from each of the major guilds by the colours of the tunics around each table: the brown of the Agrarians, the deep purple of the Sorcerers, here and there the scarlet of a mingling Whore offset vividly against the drab grey of the Comptrollers. In the corner farthest from the lights, a group in the deep blue and silver of Assassin dress uniform drank alone. A discreet space had been left around the Assassin’s table, broken only by the servants bringing in fresh supplies.
There was no chance of slipping down the inner wall unnoticed. Right then, Plan B. Ducking under the lit windows of the guardroom, the Assassin skirted around the tower to a small door recessed into the space where the battlements merged with the tower wall. The combination supplied by Eddy’s journeyman failed to open the lock, but a few moments work with the lockpix yielded a new one, and the door clicked open. The Assassin ducked through into a private stairwell leading to the Ducal apartments, used by Hizgrace when he wished to take the air.
Shutting the door again and slipping her night lenses back over her eyes, the Assassin slipped down the stairs to the first landing, moving slowly to avoid tripping on the steep treads. A door off the landing lead into currently unused apartment. Spit-gun at the ready, in case the room arrangements had been changed, the Assassin eased the door open and slid in. A brief scan of the three-room suite showed it to be deserted.
Moving into the suite’s bathroom, the Assassin shucked her light-absorbent shadowsuit to reveal the scarlet briefs and halter of a journeyman Whore. The pouches of the shadowsuit’s belt supplied ear rings, a gold necklace with a single pendant pearl, and a tiara of what appeared to be platinum. Handling the titanium headpiece carefully to avoid losing fingers on the bladed edges, the Assassin moved over to the mirror to check its placement and swiftly apply make-up.
The mirror showed a woman in her mid-twenties, slightly below average height, with deep copper-red hair which spilled down to the small of her back now that it was released from it’s confining cap. The face was pretty, not startlingly beautiful, but then that was not what she had paid for. Too beautiful and she would be noticed, remembered. Too plain and again she would stand out. The Whore’s Guild looked after its members in that respect, making up in remoulds and prosthetics where nature had been lacking. The Whore’s uniform, what little there was of it, emphasised a figure kept trim by constant unarmed combat and weapons drills.
The choice of a journeyman’s uniform was carefully made. An apprentice would not have been assigned to work the main hall on this night, and all of the MasterWhores were well known and respected figures in polite society.
Satisfied with her appearance, the Assassin ran a check on the weaponry and equipment built into the various bits of glitter with which she was bedraped, and turned to dispose of the rest of her equipment in a safe place until she should return and collect it. She paused and turned back to the mirror, fingering the straps of the halter. The Target knew her, and despite the total facial remould undertaken for the night’s work might still recognise her, given the chance. On the other hand, he was male, and therefore infantile and easily distracted. Most men presented with a bare breast never looked any higher. A decision made, the halter went into a pouch.
The shadowsuit, rolled into a remarkably small bundle, was hidden in the back of a cupboard. The Assassin cracked open the door onto the landing, checked for any sign of activity, and stepped out. Straightening the hem of a stocking, she headed down the stairs into the lighted corridors and made for the sounds of the reception, head held high and shoulders back, as befitted a ranking member of the most respected Guild on Praisbe. Looking down on the reception from a landing, she wondered what the original settlers would have made of the bacchanal going on below.
The pioneers were a bunch of religious lunatics, who’d been kicked off Heaven for being too sinful. They did blasphemous things like drink carbonated soft drinks, read books other than the Heavenly religious tracts, or worst of all, dance on Saturday nights! They’d set up their own little religious community, on somewhat less strict grounds than Heaven’s fire and brimstone philosophy, and gotten on with farming and taming their new little world. Then some idiot found the transuranics. Within twenty years, the quiet little religious communities were gone, swallowed by mining towns filled with prospectors hoping to get rich before the Miner’s Guild moved in and regulated the trade. A few even managed it. Now Praisbe was an unimportant backwater outpost of the Empire, ruled by a lecherous old lush who tonight was celebrating his wedding to a girl thirty years his junior, who had only arrived on the planet yesterday. She was probably wishing she’d been late and missed the wedding.
The party was in full swing, and had been for several hours. Ditching the halter had been a good move from the looks of things. Most of the ‘hostesses’ were topless by now, and wearing too much clothing could have been conspicuous. The Assassin moved down the stairs into the crush of the party, snagged a glass of something from a passing waiter, and started to work the room, looking for the Target.
"Do I know you, Guildmember?" asked a voice behind her archly. The tone could have been used to freeze nitrogen. The Assassin winced, and turned to face the speaker. The owner of the refrigerated voice was a woman in her fifties, dressed in a scarlet evening gown. In her youth, she had been stunning, if the embers of her beauty were anything to judge by. Right now, though, what she mostly looked was annoyed.
"No, honoured Madame," replied the Assassin, improvising furiously. "I was sent from the GuildHouse in Hosanna to assist with the socialising at this function."
The MasterWhore raised an eyebrow, and the temperature of her voice dropped another few degrees towards absolute zero.
"Really?" she drawled. "That’s odd. I do not recall summoning any assistance from Hosanna." She pursed her lips.
" Well, you’re here now, I suppose. Do your work well, and I won’t report this little breach to your House Madame. There is a group in the west withdrawing room who should appreciate your..." her eyes flicked down and back up to the Assassin’s face, "accomplishments. Go. I will be watching."
The Assassin bowed her head, and moved off towards the room indicated, muttering curses under her breath at Whores in general and officious rutting Guildmasters in particular. Now she would have to waste part of the night part of the night pandering to some lecherous old drunkards, just to keep the harridan from raising a fuss and drawing attention to her. At this rate, the Target was likely to leave before she could make contact. A few moments later, she was inclined to feel more charitably towards the old buzzard. The west withdrawing room held paydirt.
The group she had been assigned to entertain included Hizgrace the Duke, Hergrace the new Duchess, sundry Barons in from the cities they administered, and the heads of the various Guilds. Even Lanthorn, the fur trader who was known to be the local MasterThief (except, of course, that there is no Thieves Guild) was present, and busy toadying up to Hizgrace. The Duke blinked owlishly and smoked a hookah as the MasterThief grinned obsequiously at him and rabbited on about tariffs and trade concessions. Lanthorn’s tunic was such an excruciating yellow that the Assassin had a quick look to see if she could locate a volume control. Unfortunately, there was none.
A prodigious belch from the direction of the buffet table drew her attention to MasterSorcerer Morpet. The fat telepath was busy stuffing his face as usual, his straggling moustache glistening with grease, and gravy staining the front of his purple tunic where it strained to cover his paunch. The Sorcerer could be a problem. The Assassin was wearing a telepathic shield, the generator concealed in her necklace and ear-rings, but should Morpet notice that she was shielded, he would tend to ask awkward questions. Turning off the shield was a risk, too. Murder was something that tended to leak out of even the best-trained minds. Beyond the Sorcerer, picking at a platter of cold meats, stood the Target, a tall hawk-faced man in a deep blue tunic of conservative cut. His eyes were deep-set, and dark. And everywhere. He had undoubtedly already noted the Assassin, and would now watch to see her next move.
The logical thing for a newly-arrived hostess to do would be to make obeisance to the Duke, and introduce herself. The Assassin made her way over to the dais where Hizgrace reclined in a clutter of brightly-coloured cushions. His obvious appreciation of the view afforded him by the Assassin’s deep bow before him was not lost on his new bride. Hergrace was sitting stiffly upright beside her husband, chewing her lower lip. She was not a happy person.
Hizgrace took a drag from his hookah, and beckoned the Assassin closer. She could smell the sweet aroma of arenish smoke rising from the pipe. Hizgrace was so high at the moment, it was a wonder he didn’t have to duck to avoid comm satellites. He blinked at the Assassin, and a fuddled smile creased his face.
"Tell me, pretty," he slurred, "can you shing?" He burped, and giggled happily. The Duchess’ frown deepened.
"Yes, your Grace," replied the Assassin.
"Then shing to ush, my pretty, shhhhhhhiingggg..." His eyes crossed and he collapsed backwards into the cushions. A loud snore issued from his open mouth.
The Duchess raised a hand to the side of her face and shielded her eyes from the sight of her husband. She took a breath and sighed deeply, shaking her head.
"For this, I left the Imperial Court?" she muttered. She pursed her lips and looked up at the Assassin, exasperation showing clearly in every line of her body.
"Right!" she said. "Come on, you. You can do a bit more than just stand around looking decorative. Help me get this imbecile out of here."
A woman under each arm, they half lifted, half dragged the Duke to the back of the dais, where servants materialised to take their load from them.
"Just put him to bed," hissed Hergrace through gritted teeth. "Anywhere, just not in my room!"
The Duchess gave the Assassin a perfunctory smile of thanks, and moved away to mingle with her guests, suddenly charm and grace, smiling warmly at the GuildMasters and having a few words with each before moving on. The Assassin made a note to keep an eye on this young lady. Palace politics were about to get interesting.
The Assassin looked around, trying to relocate the Target. She spotted Morpet, a chicken leg in hand, waving it like a baton as he held forth to the MasterAgronomist. The farmer was tugging at his collar and looking anxious to escape. Rescue came to him in the form of the MasterArtificer, who drew him away into a conversation with the MasterHealer. The MasterThief was deep in discussion with the MasterSolicitor (situation normal), and the MasterComptroller stood awkwardly in a corner nursing a drink (so what else was new?). Nowhere was there any sign of the Target.
Wait, there he was, disappearing out into the main hall. Better and better. It should be easier to approach him in a larger crowd. The Assassin moved to follow him. The MasterWhore appeared in the doorway.
"Going somewhere, Guildmember?" she enquired, arching her eyebrows.
"The, ah, necessary, Honoured Madame," muttered the Assassin, and ducked around her into the crowd. Talk about your feeble excuses! To make matters worse, she’d lost sight of the Target again. She spotted him at a beverage dispenser, looking through the available selection and shaking his head. Obviously, nothing met his tastes.
Moving quickly, the Assassin made for another dispenser. Looking back, she could see the MasterWhore standing in the doorway scanning the room for her, and ducked behind a passing servant. Reaching the dispenser, she called up its menu of red wines, and chose one she knew to be favoured by the Target. Removing the pendant pearl from her necklace, she dropped it into her glass, where it dissolved almost instantly. She made for the Target’s last location. He was still studying the dispenser’s menu, frowning and shaking his head.
"Wine, GuildMaster?" she asked, offering him the glass. "It’s genuine Terran claret. From the French dominion, I believe. Chateau Picard?"
The Target looked up, and nodded judiciously.
"Not bad," he said. "Any idea what year it is?"
"The dispenser said ‘48, GuildMaster, but you can never really be sure, can you?"
"Hmmm, no. Thank you, Guildmember, I will accept it. This blasted thing appears to be loaded with nothing but the local plonk, and the servants appear to have gone blind and deaf of a sudden." He took the glass from her, and produced a small device from his pocket. Removing a needle from the device, he dipped it in the glass, and then slipped it back into the casing. The device beeped, and a green light came on.
"My apologies, Guildmember," he said, "but in my position I have to be careful." He sipped the wine.
"Excellent!" he said. "I could almost believe that it is a ‘48. My thanks." He toasted her and looked over her shoulder.
"Now, if you really wish to avoid a reprimand from the Master of your Guild, who is heading this way with a look like thunder on her face, I would suggest that you make yourself scarce. Go on, I’ll cover you." He grinned, toasted her once more, and moved off to intercept the MasterWhore.
The Assassin ducked into the crowd, making her way towards the stairs leading back to the Ducal apartments. A swift look over her shoulder showed the MasterWhore trying to make polite conversation with the Target while she distractedly scanned the crowd for her errant ‘journeyman’. From the frown which creased her forehead, it would be a good move to avoid being found by her. The hit had gone well, so far. To be caught by the Whore would only cause a scene and draw unwanted attention. Palace security might start asking awkward questions.
The Assassin briefly considered making a run for it through the front door, using the crowd as cover, but that would leave her equipment in the Residence, and she had to return the anti-grav unit to Eddy. Failure to return the gear would result in a visit from some of Eddy’s associates, large men with names like ‘Vinny’. She would regret having to kill them.
The Assassin paused on the first landing and looked back. There was no sign of the Whore. Satisfied, the Assassin continued up to the level of the Ducal apartments, and made for the suite where she had left her gear. Apart from the occasional servant, the corridors were deserted. Reaching her destination, she opened the door and slipped into the darkened room. She was about to palm the light controls when a loud snore caused her to freeze in place. The apartment was not empty, after all. The Assassin stood still, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dimness of the room. The sweet scent of arenish smoke wafted to her. The Duke snored again and rolled over in the bed.
Careful to make no noise, the Assassin made her way to the wardrobe to retrieve her gear. This was an unwanted complication. It would be bad enough if a journeyman Whore were seen coming out of the room where Hizgrace was spending his wedding night in exile. An unknown figure in a shadowsuit would cause all manner of ructions. Tucking the roll containing her equipment under her arm, she made for the door again. She cracked the door open and scanned the corridor outside. From her limited perspective, all appeared to be clear. She opened the door wide enough to slip through, and turned to carefully slide it shut.
"And just what do you think you’re up to, Guildmember?" asked an arctic voice behind her. The Assassin looked up to see the MasterWhore standing behind her with her arms folded, left foot tapping the carpeted floor. "Well?" she continued, "I’m waiting."
The Assassin checked both directions. Apart from herself and the Master, the corridor was deserted. An evil grin appeared on her face. Planting her right foot firmly, the Assassin spun, bringing her left foot up and round in an arc which neatly connected with the point of the Whore’s chin. The Master’s head snapped back, and she flew back to connect head-first with the wall behind her. The Master collapsed in a scarlet heap on the corridor floor.
"Thank you, Honoured Madame," muttered the Assassin. "I enjoyed that."
The Assassin quickly opened the door to the apartment behind her. Grasping the Whore under the arms, the Assassin dragged her into the apartment. The Duke snorted and muttered in his drugged sleep, but did not wake. The Assassin grinned again, a truly nasty idea occurring to her. Swiftly, she removed the Whore’s evening dress and underwear, and dragged the dead weight of the now naked woman across to the bed. Grunting with the effort, she lifted the unconscious woman onto the bed, and arranged her in an artistic tangle with the slumbering Duke.
Let’s see Hizgrace explain this one to his new bride! She thought. And the Whore’s story won’t hold much water, either. Knocked out by a non-existent member of her own Guild, of whom the Residence’s security sensors will have no record, and placed in bed while unconscious? I have got to remember to subscribe to the court circular tomorrow!
The Assassin cracked the door open once more. The corridor was still empty. Unable to believe her luck, she slipped out. Picking up her shadowsuit and equipment from where it lay by the door, she walked slowly towards the stairs leading up to the battlements. Hurrying now would be counter-productive. If she were seen, questions would be asked, and people would remember her presence.
She climbed up the stairs until she was out of sight of the corridor below, and stopped to don her shadowsuit and equipment belt. Feeling infinitely less vulnerable, she carried on up to the battlements. Opening the door, she slipped out onto the guard platform, keeping to the shadows. The Guard Sergeant she had felled earlier was gone, picked up by his men and taken in to sleep by the heaters.
Activating the anti-grav, she gravitated down the wall the same way she had come, using the cover of the keep’s shadows. She skimmed over the sensor grid and into the cover of the trees. No alarm was raised. >From there, it was a fairly easy hike back to the force-wall. Opening a gap in the force-wall, she got into a waiting ground car. (That had taken some working with the traffic computer. She owed the lads in the software department a drink.) Starting the engine, she signalled the traffic computer to slot her into the flow of vehicles heading into town, and settled back with a sigh of relief. On the outskirts of the city, the nav console beeped and asked for a specific destination. She tapped in the code for the Guild House, and another which deleted all trace of her journey from the traffic records.
The car threaded itself through the streets of the capital, and into the underground parking of the Assassins Guild headquarters. The car parked itself and switched off its engine. Opening the door, the Assassin alighted and walked over to the elevator, pulling off the hood of her shadowsuit as she went. She took the lift to the third floor, the journeyman’s quarters, and made her way wearily to her room. Removing her right glove, she pressed her palm to the lock. The lock scanned her palm print and there was a click as it disengaged. The door slid aside, and she walked in.
The room was Spartan: a bed, a desk with a comm panel and computer access terminal. The walls were painted that strange shade of green thought by the military to be inspiring, by hospitals to be calming, and by students everywhere to be nauseating. Tossing her hood onto the bed, the Assassin sat down at the desk and activated the computer terminal. She pulled the Termination Warrant Chip from her belt and slotted it into the terminal. Calling up the details on screen, she filled in the date and time of completion. She put her index finger into a slot in the desk. There was a sharp pricking sensation as the ID sensor took a blood sample. The ID system would analyse her DNA, check it against the sample on file, and add her chop to base of the Warrant. The terminal chirruped and swallowed the Warrant Chip.
Switching off the terminal, the Assassin rose and went through to the small refresher stall attached to the room. Shucking the shadowsuit and jewellery, she took a brief hot shower. Wrapping a towel around herself she stepped out of the shower stall and looked at herself in the mirror, then at the chrono on the wall. She shook her head. Tomorrow would be soon enough to get her own face back. She went back into the main room and fell on the bed. Sleep claimed her almost instantly.
She was awakened the next morning by the insistent chirp of the commsole. She stumbled over to the desk and hit the ‘receive’ button. Belatedly realising that she was wearing nothing but a bath towel, she toggled the receiver to ‘sound only’. "Journeywoman Xandra McMaster," droned an impersonal voice, "Report to the office of the MasterAssassin at 08.30. That will be all." The comm chirped and was silent.
Xanny looked at the wall chrono. It was eight-fifteen. She barely had time to dress and get up to the Master’s office. She dove for the wardrobe and pulled out a set of Guild fatigues: Dark blue tunic, blue hose and black boots. Dropping backwards onto the bed, she started to pull on the hose, then stopped and pulled her left foot out of the right leg, where it was trying to join it’s mate.
She was still brushing her fingers through her hair in a vain attempt to comb out the worst of the tangles, when the lift pinged to announce her arrival at the ninth floor. She stepped out into the Master’s vestibule. His secretary looked up, then pointedly glanced at his watch. He pouted and said ’You’re late. You know how he gets when his first appointment’s late. I’ll never catch up with his schedule now, you know."
Xanny blew him a kiss. "Suffer, Mark," she said. "Tell him I’m here, will you?"
"Oh, you’re to go straight through," replied Mark, his voice loaded with the glee reserved for those he fully expected to see roasting over hot coals before long.
Xanny ran a quick check over her uniform, tugged the hem of her tunic straight, and placed her palm on the announcer of the Master’s door.
"Come in!" called a voice from within, as the door slid aside. The Master looked up from the data pad on his desk, his aquiline face carefully neutral, the light reflecting from the high dome of forehead revealed by his receding hairline.
"Ah, Journeywoman McMaster. So good of you to grace me with your presence. I see from the logs that you completed your assignment last night. I’m impressed." he paused, then continued. "So tell me, exactly what was in that wine you gave me?"
Xanny licked her lips, and stared straight ahead. "Concentrated Acetyl Salicylate, sir," she replied.
"Aspirin?" asked the Master, his voice rising incredulously. "You mean to tell me that you claim to have poisoned me with a common painkiller?"
Xanny studiously addressed the air above his left shoulder. "Yes, sir. In it’s pure form and in a large enough dosage, it will cause renal failure within seventy-two hours. If untreated, death follows shortly. I thought a slow poison more appropriate, under the circumstances, sir."
The Master shook his head and sighed. "You do know what this means, do you not, Journeywoman?" he enquired, raising an eyebrow.
"It means we’ll have to reprogram every blasted poison sensor in the Guild, once news of this little caper gets out!" he roared, a broad grin breaking across his face. He drew a small tissue-wrapped package from his desk and tossed it to her. "Catch!" he called.
Xanny grabbed the package out of the air and stood looking at it. "Well, open it!" said the Master; "You’ve earned the damned thing!"
The tissue contained a small silver broach, a grinning skull and two crossed bones. The Master came around his desk and pinned it on her left breast. "There you go," he said. "Now get out of my office. You’re taking the first years for elementary poisoning first period, and you’re already ten minutes late. There’ll have been casualties by now, I shouldn’t wonder. Oh, and put your own face back on before you go out. MasterWhore Pinto is not a happy person this morning. I’d rather not have to explain your escapades to her. Dismissed, Master Assassin!"
Xanny wheeled smartly, and made it as far as the door before her decorum cracked. As it slid shut behind her, the Master caught a glimpse of her pumping the air with her right arm, her knee coming up to meet her elbow. "YEEEE-ESSSS!" she shrieked.
Who says exams can’t be fun?
About the writer in his own words:
"I am a 29-year old chartered accountant (no, I don't know what I did in my last life to deserve this) turned IT consultant, and I live in the wilds of Africa. (Well, Harare isn't that wild, unless there are riots on). My father read me to sleep with C.S. Lewis's Narnia stories before I could read, then gave me a copy of 'The Lord of the Rings' for my eighth birthday. This probably explains my fascination with the fantasy and SF genre. I am currently working on page 3 of a novel which steadfastly refuses to write itself."
Iain can be e-mailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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