Prologue

Ris slipped between the throngs of the crowd, face shadowed by the brim of her cap. The sky was overcast, hung with boiling grey clouds threatening to burst at any given moment. No one seemed very concerned with the weather, the attention of the entire city was drawn towards the scaffold in the center of the square where the noose swung.

Ris' heart pounded at the sight of it--the noose she'd seen in nearly every nightmare she'd had for the past six years. Only it wasn't her neck that was to hang today.

A flash of lightning cracked the darkening sky, followed by a roll of thunder. Then the city watchmen proceeded through the crowd, their armor glinting dully in the waning light. Ris watched them with a steepled expression, while the blood roared in her ears. Then the dark-cloaked Ward stepped out from among them, and mounted the scaffold.

The sight of a Ward made Ris' fingers scream for her knives. She couldn't stand the sight of them. As much as she hated the watchmen of the city, she couldn't stand the sight of a Ward--perhaps it was the mingled fear that accompanied the hatred.

"Citizens of Taganrod," the cultured, oily voice of the Ward boomed out over the crowds. Silence immediately descended, thick and stifling. The unease that Ris felt was present in all of the spectators. Wards were held in reverence, fear, and distrust.

"You are all here today to witness the hanging of the worst grade of criminal. A common thief and murderer. One who has attempted to steal a precious artifact from the treasury. Fortunately, the thief was apprehended... and will now pay for his crimes."

The Ward stepped down the scaffold and the prisoner was thrust forward by the watchmen. A bound and blind-folded young man, hunched over and beaten was thrust up the steps by the watchmen. His reddish hair was matted with dirt and gore.

At the sight of him Ris' heart lept into her throat, and she fought to keep herself from rushing forward at that moment. The watchmen pulled the noose down to his heighth and wrapped it around his neck, pulling it taut. Another removed the blindfold, allowing him to catch his last glimpse of the world before he left it.

Ris slipped closer to the front of the crowd, reaching within her vest and withdrawing her blades. She fought to keep her calm. Now was not the time to panic--she judged the distance, the precision it would take--and began to count. If she didn't hit the exact moment. All would be lost.

The double-sided shafk lightly bit into her fingers, drawing blood. She never noticed. The rope was pulled taut, and Ris dimly noticed that the rain had begun to fall. Then in a crack the floor of the scaffold dropped.

In the instant the body dropped a glint of steel flashed through the air, whizzing through the rope, and the body had disappeared, falling beneath the darkness of the scaffold. The crowds stood silent in confusion, and then everything erupted into chaos.

Ris was already beneath the scaffold before the watchmen even realized what had happened. She pulled the half-broken man from the earth.

"Crispin, we have to go, stand up, help me!" She hissed urgently, tugging him up with all the strength her thin frame could afford her.

The watchmen pounded down the steps.

"You shouldn't... you shouldn't have come, Ris." He whispered, stumbling along beside her.

"Shh, here, don't go back to Norsan, he's the one who set you up, Crispin, I've paid off some people. They'll help you," Ris said urgently. A shadowed face in a cape appeared in the crowd, and she handed Crispin off to him in relief.

She turned to go in the opposite direction when iron hands wrenched her back.

"I've got the boy!" The watchman bellowed, tugging her away. Ris' eyes sought out the backs of Pol and Crispin as they moved through the crowds. Relief washed through her--he was safe. Crispin was safe and she had saved him.

The watchman began to tug her away when a shot, sharper than knives, rang out--silencing the chaos.

For a moment time froze, Ris' ears filling with the pounding of her heartbeat. There was nothing but her and the rain and the pounding of her heart.

The crowd parted, and through a curtain of rain there lay the broken body of a man, blood pooling around his body, mixing with rain and mud. Pol's hood fell back, revealing a different face. Dark, knowing eyes, and he knuckled his brow with a twisted smile. Norsan.

"No!" Ris screamed, her throat clogging with rain and tears. She struggled and lashed out, but the watchman was much larger and yanked her back, knocking her cap from her head. Her hair fell around her face, plastering with the rain.

The watchman threw her to the ground, and she hit the mud on her side, staring at the boots of the Ward, she never felt the pain in her numbness. In a flash of rage she rolled to her feet, snatching a blade from her boot and twisted to thrust it into the Ward's heart.

An icy wall hit her, freezing her hands and wrenching away the blade. The breath whoosed from her lungs and Ris found herself sinking to her knees, staring in agony and hatred into the black eyes of the Ward. He seemed startled for a moment, then the expression disappeared into cold disgust and he smashed the handle of her own blade against the side of her head, and the world melted to blackness.


A/N:

shafk: small, portable, two-sided blade without a handle. Kinda like a scythe, but a throwing blade. I made it up.

Revised. I hope this doesn't throw too many people off, but I decided I needed to switch from first POV, I write better in 2nd, I think. Let me know what you think, but please be constructive and as encouraging as possible--my baby ego gets crushed easily this early in the game.

Music I listened to while writing this: London, from Blood Diamond Soundtrack.

(By the way, completely stole the writing what song you listen to from Narc, sorry, I'm giving you credit, lol)

Question for readers: Does this version seem to be less of an information overload, or more so? Also I'm hoping it flowed better but idk.

kaythankssomuch.

-Saroo