Ruadhan walked at an easy pace and Kiol caught up to him in no time. The general barely gave him a glance before signing. “Go on ahead. Kill who you need to, except Domora. Leave her for me.”
“Yessir,” Kiol said, and ran. He was relieved to have orders, even happier to finally be allowed freedom. He had already changed into his full uniform and belt before going to the prison so all he needed to do was ready his sword.
He killed the front guards before they even knew that he was attacking. Pretty soon he was surrounded by panicked, fleeing courtesans and patrons but he paid them no mind. If any tried to stop him they were left twitching and bleeding out on the floor before they even got close.
The guards around Domora were a bit harder, but still didn’t stand a chance. This wasn’t Kiol the Soldier, this was Kiol the Assassin, at last with permission to be unrestrained. Through it all the madam sat on her low sofa, legs crossed, and watched her protection slaughtered. When Kiol turned to her, sword dripping with blood, she smiled.
“All this because I propositioned your boyfriend?” she asked.
The menace in Kiol’s steps actually made the woman pause. “You should know better,” he said, “than to make such comments to me right now.” She raised her palms in surrender but even something about that seemed cocky. “Tell me where the women are.”
“If you wanted a woman there were about six dozen you scared off.”
“You know what I’m asking.” She raised her eyebrows at him. He gave her three seconds—an extremely generous amount—before lifting his sword tip to her neck. “Tell me.”
“Ruadhan won’t let you kill me,” she said calmly. “He’ll want to question me first.”
“Not kill,” Kiol said. “But he said nothing of maiming.” He was about to cut off a finger with a flick of his sword but instead he stepped to the side and flung a throwing knife behind him. The dart aimed for his neck embedded into a sofa cushion and his knife embedded into the wall.
He turned around slowly, eyes prodding into every corner of the room. It was dim in here but that meant nothing to Kiol. There was no one hiding in the shadows, no secret openings in the walls. Where the hell did the dart come from?
Even though the trajectory meant it couldn’t possibly be from outside the room, he stepped into the hall anyway. The house was empty save the trail of corpses he’d left in the corridor. He returned to the madam’s side. “Some of you rebels do have skill.”
“Oh, yes.” Domora smiled again. “We have plenty. Plenty of numbers, too. You can take me away, you could kill me, kill as many rebels as you can find, but there will always be more.”
So many rebels—and cultists—festering right under their noses. The Society had become so complacent in its incumbency, so confident in its power, that they didn’t think it possible. They crushed the small groups that were too amateur to keep things secret and believed it was enough. But someone like Domora—secrets were her profession, her life.
Kiol remembered Nirin’s observation and started to sign instead of talk. “Couldn’t find another five to replace the ones who refused? I don’t think we need to worry about your numbers.” She had originally wanted twenty-one impostors for seven fake patrols, but had to make-do with sixteen. If their numbers truly were that great, finding an extra five men, or at least an extra two, to threaten into compliance shouldn’t have been difficult.
Domora shrugged with her eyebrows and a tilt of her head. “Think what you want.”
“Why didn’t your threats work on those five?” That was what Kiol couldn’t figure out. Someone like Domora who already knew people’s vulnerabilities or could easily find out, who led the rebels and was trusted by them, surely she knew who or what to threaten to make the men obey.
She understood what he was thinking. “Oh, they did care for those women. They just cared about themselves more. Surely that’s something you of all people can understand, Killer.”
Kiol crouched down and stared her in the eyes. Killer. A name other soldiers mocked him with. Most of them were killers too, but not in the same way, and not to the same extent. They thought he didn’t know, because Kiol and killer looked so similar when spoken and Kiol never reacted either way. But Domora emphasized it clearly, wanted him to see her say it.
“I understand,” he said slowly. “Far better than you know and not for the reasons you think.” It was a cruel choice to ask of anyone: yourself or your loved one. Even the men who had chosen their loved ones, many of them had likely done so only to uphold an obligation of honor, so they wouldn’t feel the shame and burden that came with selfishness. But in their hearts, they wanted to choose themselves and their own lives. That was what it was to be human. Kiol did not look down on them for it.
Of course, the men who had chosen themselves had died anyway. But that was because of their own stupidity and greed, and Kiol did look down on them for that.
“Who would you choose?” Domora asked. “Yourself… or Nirin?”
Kiol’s eyes widened—barely, but the woman noticed and gave a wicked smile. He didn’t have time to question how she knew his name. He threw his weight to the side and stood in one smooth movement. The dart landed just above the madam’s shoulder in the back of the sofa. It was close that time. She was baiting him, distracting him.
His gaze trailed around the room without stopping as he spoke. “I may be a killer, but you are a monster.” What she did to those women—her own followers. No wonder Nirin had been so disconcerted by her. Kiol wouldn’t want a glimpse into such a soul.
He stayed mostly facing the side wall where the darts had come from before. It didn’t matter. The air shifted with deadly aura and Kiol stepped out of the way as he turned around. The dart stuck into the wall. Nobody behind him. Nothing. Even the madam was lounging on the couch without looking at him, as though resting after a nice dinner.
He returned to her front. “Tell me where the rebel women are.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” she said pleasantly, then nodded behind Kiol’s shoulder. “Ruadhan.”
Kiol turned to see Ruadhan walk calmly into the room, adjusting his collar. “Domora,” he returned the greeting with a dip of his chin.
“Be careful,” Kiol warned. “There are darts coming from nowhere.”
Ruadhan’s eyes hadn’t left the madam. “Mirror sigils, Domora?” He took a knife from his belt and lifted her by the arm. She came willingly and let Ruadhan cut her hand. Dipping two fingers into her blood, he scribbled out a rune on the wall, more complicated than any Kiol had ever seen. Then, as though it was the most natural thing in the world, he stepped into the wall. Kiol watched, fascinated, confused, as he disappeared. The madam looked down at her hand with a curled lip and wiped her bloody palm across the sigil, smearing it into oblivion. Kiol stepped forward and grabbed her, but not in time. He hauled her back and began tying her up. He didn’t know where Ruadhan had gone or what destroying that rune would do.
But only a minute later Ruadhan stepped back into the room from the same spot, a splatter of blood across his chest, the kind that came from slitting a throat. That was why Kiol preferred to stab instead of slice—less messy.
“Let’s go,” Ruadhan said to Kiol and started out. Kiol took one last look at the wall then pulled Domora out after.
She didn’t struggle at all and walked through the streets with her head held high. People saw the Temple General’s and Kiol’s uniform and scattered to the sides of the road, out of their way.
They brought Domora to the prison room in Ruadhan’s quarters. It had no cell, only chains for one person and a pit for a fire. When he had chained her up Kiol said, “I will search for the rebel families. I believe they’re in the east side.”
Ruadhan waved his agreement and dismissal and Kiol left him to get what information he could from Domora. He likely didn’t care about the families at this point; he wanted to know what soldiers were working with the rebels.
Kiol ransacked the east district, demanding of everyone he saw what they knew. Most, terrified, claimed to know nothing and Kiol couldn’t determine if any were lying. Nirin’s help would have been great but Kiol refused to bring Nirin into this now, not when it had come to this point.
He couldn’t keep blindly knocking down doors but just as that occurred to him, he had another thought. He made his way to the money-lender, hoping he was still there. He was. Kiol killed all eight of his guards and dragged the man out from where he cowered under his desk.
“Where are the captive women?” he asked. The man didn’t even struggle, held up to his toes by the back of his tunic.
“I-I-I don’t kn-know—”
Kiol rested the tip of his dagger on the man’s eye. He squeezed both shut and screamed, “Below the bathhouse! On Line Street! Oh God, don’t!” He continued screaming until Kiol snapped his neck and dropped his lifeless body to the floor in disgust. He didn’t deserve such a quick and painless death but Kiol didn’t have time. He found Line Street only after more aggressive questions to panicked pedestrians and from there finding the bathhouse was easy.
Another impressively large building whose three floors were actually connected, and steam occasionally billowed from the top. Paper lanterns were hung off all the eaves but in the daylight there was nothing impressive about their red faces, numerous though they were. Kiol hadn’t been to a bathhouse in a long time, and never to this one. He vaguely recalled bathhouses had furnaces in the cellars, a place only for workers so the entrance to it would be somewhere out of the way and inconspicuous.
He watched the people entering and leaving until two men in coarse black garments carrying buckets of water went inside. Kiol slipped in after and kept his eye on them. The center corridor split the building into gendered halves, and those were split into changing rooms, wash rooms, hot baths, cold baths, and the steam room. Nobody paid the workers any mind, but they did Kiol. Kiol could try to be as low-profile as he wanted and it wouldn’t work. Certainly not in his uniform. People scurried out of his way in a panic when they saw him, even as he walked leisurely and didn’t look at any of them. When the men noticed he was following them they kept glancing over their shoulders and picking up speed but Kiol kept pace and eventually they led him to the cellar entrance. They practically sprinted down the stairs.
Once in the underbelly, though, the staff barely spared him a glance before returning to their work. If any of them paused for more than a few seconds it would stop the entire process and things would quickly go downhill from there. Given that he wasn’t attacking anyone, and they’d lose their livelihoods if they were the reason for the entire bathhouse to grind to a halt, they’d rather take the slim chance that he was there for them. It was mostly men—lugging coal or water, fanning flames with a giant bellows, drawing water up or down from floors. A few women, also dressed in black, were among them and none looked out of place. They dutifully went about their own work; washing linens, grinding herbs, crawling between and under furnaces to clean or fix them.
He tried to talk to a few staff and ask if they’d had any new female workers or had seen anything unusual, but even the ones who bothered to react to him simply shook their heads. Had Idretis really dared to give him false information? Perhaps he had known he would die either way. Kiol wandered twice around the cellar, which was a fairly large space since it took up the entire same area as the building. For anyone else they could continue to be unsure, but Kiol knew after that that the women weren’t there and there was no secret passageway hidden somewhere.
He stopped on his way back to the stairs and slowly looked around. Was it possible? He’d seen it with his own eyes but still, somehow, he couldn’t believe…
He crouched down and pulled out his dagger. At that the staff around him quickly left, but they hadn’t been doing anything vital. He rolled up his sleeve, cut his arm, swiped his fingers in the blood, and began redrawing the sigil he’d seen Ruadhan draw. He wasn’t good for much, but at the very least his eye was of a god and his memorization skills were almost good enough to also be considered inhuman. When the sigil was finished he wiped his dagger and put it back in his vest, then pressed his hand tentatively to the dirt. As though slipping through a frigid mist, it passed right into the ground. Not thinking about what might happen if he’d drawn the sigil even the slightest bit wrong, nor if he was just transporting himself to another place entirely, he dove the rest of his body through.