He pulled himself level with the ledge, taking care not to cause any more injury to his bleeding ribs. He peeked up at the window. Thick black smoke billowed through the broken panes while a dull orange and yellow glow flickered behind. Frantic shouts pierced the night, calling for more buckets. Faux grinned. The fire would certainly distract the remaining guards in the house. Groaning from the effort, he climbed over the ledge onto the slick roof tiles. He ran a hand over his burning ribs. His fingers were slick with blood. The rusty fluid swirled in his hand as it mixed with the rain drops before trickling to the rooftop.

Lightning flashed overhead. The brilliant light illuminated the entire rooftop before a giant roll of thunder deafened him. A glint to his left caught Faux's attention. Leaning over, he found his rapier caught in the rain gutter. He picked it up and slid it over his shoulder, next to its companion, before picking his way along the roof. The wall for the estate was closest at the other end of the house.

By the time he made it to the far side his breathing was labored, the slash along his ribs throbbed. He looked over the edge; the wall stood there, taunting him. It was about a fifteen-foot drop, so close but so tantalizingly out of reach. He could probably make the jump on a good day, but in this rain, with the slash to his ribs and his head still ringing, it'd be madness. He wasn't quite that desperate - yet. Directly below him, a few feet from the wall was another window. It looked like a short hop from that window to the wall; definitely better odds. He turned towards another dormer window jutting from the roof behind him, similar to the one he'd broken through moments earlier. It seemed easy enough; slip in through this window, make his way to the room with the window fronting the wall, and hop across. No problem. He sighed, just like this whole night was supposed to be. A simple job.

He crept back to the glass and tried to look through the water streaked panes. The pitch blackness revealed nothing. He pulled out a set of lock picking tools and worked the window latch. Within seconds he was inside, closing the window behind him. The darkness was so deep that even his vision had trouble surveying his surroundings.

As his eyes gradually brought the miniscule amount of light into focus, it coalesced into the outlines of an unused bedroom. What looked to be a canopy bed in one corner had the mattress tipped on its side to prevent it from going stale and becoming mouldy. The swept hearth was empty and cold, and the lone wardrobe standing in the far corner stood empty and gaping.

He crept across the vacant room and paused at the doorway, pressing an ear up against the keyhole. He could hear distant shouts, still panicked, but they sounded far off. From immediately outside the door there was nothing. He reached for the latch and eased the door open, peering around the doorframe into the hallway.

Thick tendrils of greyish smoke snaked along the ceiling, creating eerie shadows as they ebbed and flowed around the hallway lanterns. To Faux's right the hallway extended roughly a couple of dozen paces or so before forking left and right. The shouts he'd heard were coming from the right arm of the branch. To his left, the window he sought beckoned, also about a couple of dozen paces away. Relieved, Faux opened the door all the way and stepped into the dimly lit, hazy hallway. He allowed himself a small grin. Looks like I might actually get out of this mess.

He took a couple of steps and froze. A trio of guards came running along the cross corridor at the end of the hallway. They all carried slopping buckets of dirty water, heading towards the shouts. One of the soldiers casually glanced down the side hallway and saw Faux rooted there, steps away from the window, willing them to keep running.

"What the hell?" the guard exclaimed, dropping his bucket. Water washed across the floor as it tipped over. "He's here, the little shit is right here." He reached over his shoulder and scrambled to pull a bow free.

"Shit!" Faux cursed, dashing for the window.

He flung an arm at the window, using the hilt of his rapier to shatter the latch. The glass exploded, sending pieces into the rainy night while others tinkled as they fell to the floor. Raindrops streamed through the broken glass as another blinding flash of lightning split the sky. An accompanying eruption of thunder roared overhead, jiggling the broken glass and drowning out the shouts from the startled guardsmen.

Faux reached for the window casing, preparing to make the leap from the ledge to the wall that loomed tantalizingly close. He glanced back as the sharp twang of a bow string cut the air which had gone still after the burst of thunder. The arrow flashed as it streaked along the hallway to meet him. Pain blossomed from his shoulder as the arrow hit home, driving him into the wall below the window and knocking the half-elf to the floor.

He started to pick himself up before the blinding pain in his left shoulder made him yelp and drop back to the floor. With clenched teeth, he stared at the arrow shaft jutting from his body. Its fletching stood out to him in fine detail, the grey goose feathers slightly flecked with his own blood.

He managed to awkwardly roll to one side. Squeezing his eyes tightly shut, he fought another wave of nausea that threatened to rob him of consciousness. His sword lay inches out of reach, the slender rapier resting against the painted wall. Flexing his fingers and taking a deep breath, he reached out and gripped the arrow shaft. In one smooth motion, he snapped the shaft with a loud shout. His trembling fingers collected the blade, then turned to face the sound of advancing boots from further down the hallway.

The three guards had closed the distance. They were all wearing the same leather armour, dyed a blue so dark it flirted with black. Two were leading the way, holding dangerously sharp looking short swords. They approached with hesitant steps, their eyes wary as they closed in on the crippled assassin. The last one was tucking a strung bow over his shoulder and pulling another short sword from a sheath on his hip. Faux staggered to his feet despite the painful protests of his injuries. He drew a shuddering breath, willing the pain away, and turned to face his assailants.

"Well now lads," the lead soldier sneered with disgust, "it looks like we've finally cornered the little bastard."

"I think there's been a little misunderstanding here fellas," Faux backed towards the window, his boots crunching on the glass scattered across the floor. "I had a contract job and it seems like I was given the wrong address. I'll let myself out here." He turned and patted the soaking windowsill, "We can pretend this whole thing never happened."

"You've picked the wrong night to be out you miserable shit. And this mistake is going to be costly."

"Come now, let's be reasonable. The fire that's making all this smoke looks like it needs a bit of tending." He pointed with his sword to the pair of buckets still filled with slopping water. "Looks like we could all benefit from being somewhere else. How about we part ways and call it a night?"

"Can we just kill him already?" The second guard eyed Faux as if he were a poisonous spider in his bed. He hefted his sword and began closing in on the wounded half-elf.

The leader threw out a hand to stall his companion. He took another step and spit in Faux's direction, his cold eyes promising a quick death, or worse, a long one.

"Your time is up lad. Lay down your blade and come with us. Let's not have to do things the hard way."

The third guard had slowly drifted away from the other two, sliding to Faux's exposed side, hoping to go unnoticed as his companions distracted their quarry.

He lunged forward, his sword extended, seeking the half-elf's heart. With almost impossible speed, Faux spun towards the attack, parrying it to one side. With a snap of his wrist Faux flicked the blade away and reversed the stroke, his rapier sliding through the guard's neck. Blood sprayed across the hallway as the man's jugular opened, creating eerie patterns on the walls and speckling the other two with red droplets. He dropped to the floor, writhing and gurgling, hands clutching his ruined neck as his life pumped through his fingers.

Faux raised his hands, a regretful look on his face as the other guards stood dumbstruck.

"Look," he began hesitantly, trying to mask the flood of pain that threatened to overwhelm him from the sudden movements. "This is not how I wanted this to end. Let me out this window. No one else has to die here tonight." He could see the indecision behind their eyes as they sized him up again. "My contract fell apart, the house is burning down, and people are still dying. It's a buggered night all around. Let's go somewhere to drink it off."

"I'm gonna gut you from balls to that scrawny neck of yours, you miserable half-breed whelp of a whoring bitch!" The guard who'd taken the lead drove at him with his sword while his remaining companion shuffled to the other side of the hallway to try and catch Faux in between them.

"Guess not!" Faux muttered, parrying away the man's thrust while stepping back, trying to clear some space for himself.

The guard tried to press forward and overpower his smaller adversary after having his jab blocked. He swung the sword in a vicious arc, intending to separate Faux's head from the rest of his body. The lithe half-elf deftly ducked under the violent swing and calmly ran his own sword along the back of the man's leg. He crashed to the floor with a loud howl, his hamstring severed.

The other soldier rushed him, his sword blade slicing through Faux's cloak as he darted to one side. The momentum carried the zealous guard forward, almost on top of the dodging assassin. Without breaking stride, Faux pulled a dagger from his boot. Spinning into the guard, he rammed it into the soft spot of skin under the man's chin. The blade glinted through his gaping mouth as it shot up through the man's brain. His eyes blinked and stared at Faux in disbelief before clouding over.

He hit the floor with a wet thud as the bedraggled half-elf pulled the dagger free. Blood was seeping from around the arrow lodged in his shoulder and his ribs felt as though someone were holding a torch against his side.

"Mercy. Please mercy..." The wounded soldier stared at Faux with bulging eyes as the half-elf wiped his dagger clean on one of the dead men's cloaks. "W...w...we was o...only following orders…"

"Why?" Faux hissed. "I gave you a chance to walk away. I told you no one else needed to die. Call it a night and just go our separate ways." He loomed over the injured guard, his rapier still dripping blood. Tears were coursing down the man's face as he looked away.

His boot snapped forward catching the whimpering soldier across the side of his head. His body slammed back against the floor and lay still. Faux leaned down and checked the man's neck. There was a strong pulse and his breathing was regular if not a little erratic.

Faux sagged against the wall, chest heaving. He hated killing for no purpose. If their name wasn't on the contract, he tried to avoid killing them. Especially men doing their jobs, trying to stop someone like him. Three bodies lay sprawled across the hallway under the thickening smoke. He sighed. At least one of them would live.

The pain of his own wounds crashed over him like an icy waterfall as the adrenaline wore off. His hands probed at the jagged tear along his shirt. Pulling it aside revealed the thin, ugly gash that split his skin across his ribs. How the arrow hadn't punched through was a mystery. Instead, it had somehow deflected off the rib, slicing the skin before disappearing into the night.

He looked over his pulsing shoulder. The iron arrow head stuck out of his blood sodden cloak like a parasite bursting free. It was all he could do until he could pull it through and bind it. The headache that threatened to burst his head apart was a continuous reminder of the gash from his head pounding against the glass.

"Lydia's going to be pissed this time," he said to the comatose guard.

Wincing as he stood, he climbed through the shattered window. With one last look down the smoky hallway, he leapt to the wall.