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he crouched low and waited. In her line of work, waiting was something she did often. And more often than not, it was in cramped quarters such as these. Usually, she would occupy her mind with one of the many mind games she had learned in her apprenticeship from the old man. On this occasion, however, she needed to remain aware of her surroundings and alert. She was attempting to time the movements of the guards at the
top of the wall. The timing was crucial. She knew how long it would take to scale the wall, drop to the other side and get into her next hiding spot. Its location marked with an X on the crude map on the back of her hand. The guards had already changed their positions three times, between each changing she had kept a silent count at the slow but steady pace she had practiced sense childhood. She needed this final count to be sure of the length of the gap. Luck had been on her side. These were well drilled guards. Their actions; precise. Because of the precision of their timing, her job would be easier.

Her job. That's all it was to her. Just a job. Infiltrate the castle and kill the king while he slept. When it was
over she would be paid well.

She quickly chased the thought from her mind. She must concentrate on the job at had. With her work, it was a
matter of life and death. She could ill afford to let her mind wonder. It was nearly time to act.

In a flash she sprung from her hiding place, dashed across the cleared area (cleared to give the guards a better
view and eliminate hiding places for assassins like herself) and up the outer wall. She made no more noise than that made by the light breeze which brought with it cool air from the western ocean. From the top of the wall, she dropped the thirty feet to the ground, tucked into a ball and rolled into a small gap between a tower and the outer wall. Here she would await her next opportunity to enter the tower where Erkinwhine slept...

Finally her moment arrived. Raven dissapeared into the shadows and slunk into the tower unnoticed. There she
crept through a maze of corridors until she came to a door bordered by two guards. She retrieved a vial of dark liquid from a fold in her cloths and tossed it at their feet and took a deep breath.

The small vial broke, releasing a cloud of gas. The guards began to choke and within moments they fell to the
floor unconscious. Quickly she skirted their bodies and entered the king's sleeping quarters. Finally free of the bad air, she let out her breath and took a few breaths of good air.

All she had left to do is dispatch Erkinwhine and make her escape from the balcony. Crossing the room deftly,
she came to his bed. The drapes had been pulled down to block out what little light filtered in from the windows. Care-fully she pulled the dager from its ankle sheath. Grasping the curtains with one hand, she readied the blade. At least his death would be painless.

Suddenly, she felt a hand on her mouth wrenching her head back and the cold steel of a dagger at her throat. A
soft voice whispered into her ear, "Drop it." She wisely complied.

"Who are you?", the voice inquired. The hand moved itself from her mouth to her chin and pressure was added
to the blade at her throat.

"I am Raven," she replied, trying to regain her composure. No one had gotten the drop on her in the last
thirteen years.

The knife at Raven's throat was removed, but before she could react, the hand on her chin lifted her off her
feet, turned her about and propelled her against a wall with sufficient enough force to knock the wind out of her. "Assassin," the whisperer rasped. "Who hired you?"

Even if the woman had wanted to answer the man's question -- she couldn't. Raven was still trying to catch her
breath. Her mind raced; trying to formulate an answer that might save her life and her reputation. But something kept interrupting her thoughts. Something she had to know. So when her voice returned to her, it was in the form of a question, rather than an answer. "How did you know?"

"I am Erkinwhine after all," he said, as if that was all the explaination she needed. "I love these political
games.... Don't you?" He held her pined against the wall with one hand, while he searched her body with the other. His eyes never left hers. His hand found the small knife she had hidden on her inner thigh and even the thin wire she had secreted in a much more private area. Convenced she was now only armed with her natural weapons, he turned her around and bound her hands with the wire. "Don't struggle. That wire is sharp. I'd hate for you to slit your pretty little wrists. I ask you again, for whom do you work?"

The reality of her situation was sinking in as the panic faded. This man took care of his own affairs. If she
didn't tell Erkinwhine what he wanted to know, she would be killed. The reality was that simple. This was a man who killed with apparently no remorse. Like her, he was the perfect assassin. And, as luck would have it, he was in charge of the situation. "Abaddon," she said at last.

"Abaddon?" He questioned.

"Yes, Abaddon. Ruby Dirt is allergic to her husband. But if the good doctor can acquire a couple pails of your
blood, his witchdoctor can work a cure."

"Yes, I've heard that rumor. But that doesn't explain you. You do not appear equiped to retrieve two pails of
my blood."

"Abaddon doesn't want your blood. He doesn't want Dr. Dirt to have it either. He has his eyes on Queen Ruby.
With you out of the picture, he thinks he can make her his own."

"It would seem I have but one option available. I must make his assassin my own. But it is late. We can
discuss the details of that in the morning. Right now it is 4 a.m. and I'm stuck in my bedroom with a beautiful woman .... I know of only one thing to do in such a situation." He raised an eyebrow (well, it would have been an eyebrow, if he had one) but doubted she could see it in the dark. "If I untie you, can I trust you not to kill me in my sleep?" She smiled. "I thought so ... It would be a shame to let such an opportunity go to waste ... What say we tie you to the bed?" She nodded and smiled again.