Chapter 2: Death Magic

Darius Essbeth was a man who indulged in worldly pleasures, to put it in diplomatic terms. Or, as I preferred to put it, he was a fat fuck. Beads of sweat dribbled down his temples like wax melting from a candle as he heaved his stocky legs up the volcano slope. His two small, beady eyes darted furtively from side to side.

"T-This is ridiculous," He spat, "I can't bring a single servant with me?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"No."

It wasn't unusual, for clients to request they view the assassination in person. It gave them a sick sense of satisfaction, and they paid good money for the experience. I only hoped Darius wouldn't interfere with the process more than he already had.

"I hope you guys are good," he said, "I've tried so many organisations but they've all…"

"Shh," I motioned for him to shut up, "I see her."

At the top of the volcano lip was a singular figure with crimson hair peppered by the white and silver streaks of age. I watched as she breathed in hot, acrid fumes arising from the volcano's core, eyes closed in meditative bliss. Deep red gashes in her arm glowed like hot coals before smoothing over to form perfect, unmarred skin.

Yaela Grimshaw. She was one of the most powerful fire mages in Erudaeya, and definitely not someone I wanted to fight head on. My hand instinctively closed around the small crumpled piece of paper in my pocket.

Suddenly, Yaela froze. She whipped her head around. Our eyes met. Even at this distance I could see her eyes widen and then narrow as she started to run towards us. Her human form flickered and morphed to become tongues of fire so scorching they burned bright blue. Shit. I'd underestimated her acuity.

"She's coming!" Darius screeched as he latched both his sweaty palms onto my forearm, "Protect me!"

"You paid for an assassin, not a bodyguard," I said scathingly, "Although…we could discuss the time of assassination."

"Now!" He screamed, "Now!"

"Very well." I opened the piece of paper in my pocket. On its ivory white surface, three things were written in neat, black ink. One: Yaela's birth date. Two: her birth location. Three: her distinguishing features at birth.

I opened my palm to cast a spell circle, focusing all my magical energy and keeping the date written on the piece of paper at the back of my mind. A glowing violet rune in the shape of an hourglass appeared before me, as rings and rings of intricate patterns started to form around its edges. Finally, a date became legible, emblazoned around the circumference of the circle; the whole thing began to emit a blinding white-purple light, and I was gone.

-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-

23:45 December 19th, 1439. 62 years BCT (Before Current Time)

It took me longer than expected to find the address; I was surprised I hadn't felt fatigued at this stage, since it took energy to remain in a time that was not your own – even more so the further back in time it was.

My search led me to a small village in the not-so-distant countryside, nestled in a valley and almost hidden from sight. From there, my destination was hard to miss: the grandest, most beautiful house that was neither grand nor beautiful. It was dilapidated yet strangely cosy, an oddly triangular building with a red tiled roof on top of which a chimney sent out kite-string trails of smoke. Soft white snow settled like a blanket on the eaves, gently illuminated by the warm golden light spilling from two frosty window panes. The insistent wails of a baby could be heard inside. As the night went on, the candles were blown out one by one until at last there was a deathly stillness in the air almost as visible as the small clouds my warm breath parted in the icy winter air.

I slipped in through the back door, easily picking through the lock before I navigated my way around the dark and found where the baby was. She slept soundly away in a cot, this wrinkled monkey-looking being that all new-borns seemed to resemble. In the dim moonlight, I could see her hair; only a soft dander glued to her scalp at this point, but an unmistakable crimson. Her face was so peaceful. Here and now she was sinless, vulnerable.

Outstretching my hand to contact the left side of her chest where her heart lay, I casted another spell. This one was black, yet it glowed and flickered in the darkness, roaring to life like hellfire in the shape of a screaming skull.

The universe was self-consistent, and so would prevent any paradoxes created by time travel. If any event had the capacity to change the present, then the probability of that event occurring was zero. Ending Yaela's life now was impossible, because she was definitely alive in the present, and a so-called grandfather's paradox would have resulted: if she never lived, then I would have never received the request to kill her, in which case she would have lived. No, the laws of the universe would not allow that. The mortem spell was imperative if I wanted her dead in the present.

I plunged my dagger into her chest, right between the gap in the ribs to reach her little heart. She woke as I pulled the blade out, only managing to cry and scream for a few moments longer before the light in her eyes began to fade. Blood began to flood around her tiny body, glowing almost silver in the moonlight, spreading slowly out like an ink stain on a piece of parchment. Then, her limbs hung limp. She was dead.

The black skull above her body crackled to life, opening its mouth in an agonised, contorted scream to reveal a vast chasm, an all-encompassing darkness. The wound in her chest faded and the copious amounts of blood vaporised into the air as red smoke, before being sucked into that swirling black hole at the mouth of death's visage. There was neither trace nor stain left on her bed; the skull dissipated with a raspy sigh, as if it had eaten and was now satisfied. Silence. Then, cries. She opened her eyes once more.

That was my cue to leave. I cut off the magical energy I was using to sustain my existence in this time just as the house stirred to life, no doubt worried about their hysterically crying baby. But soon, I knew, Yaela would have no memory of this incident, and her parents would have no idea their darling, precious little daughter had already been marked by the grim reaper.

-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-

I returned to the present at almost the exact second I'd left; to Darius, it would have only appeared as if my image had flickered a brief moment; a mere trick of the eye.

"Do something!" he yelled desperately.

I shook him off me. Yaela was almost at close quarters now, and I had to back away from the scorching heat. On closer inspection, I could still see some semblance in her to the innocent baby I visited, sixty-two years in the past. The same wide-set, droopy eyes were now adorned with wrinkles, and with a sinking feeling in my stomach I realised they were laugh lines, feathering out towards her temples. I'd seen the day of her birth, and was about to witness her death, but for a brief moment, I wondered how she'd lived.

"Darius!" she hissed

She stopped dead in her tracks, clutching her hands to her chest, eyes widening as she realised they came away stained with blood. On her chest, right above where her heart lay, was a gash that I knew reached past the gap in her ribs, to plunge deep into her heart. And, just like the day sixty-two years ago, she managed to scream and cry for a few seconds longer before her breath gave away.

"My daughter…" She said incoherently as her voice died, as her fire died, as the light in her eyes died, " …give her back…"

She crashed to the ground, blood spreading like a crimson blanket underneath her now lifeless body.

An acrid taste rose to the back of my throat. I felt as if I was going to be sick. The time travel must have tired me out more than I thought, I told myself.

"Someone will collect the money from you in three days," I told Darius, who was stunned speechless.

I walked away, taking once last glance at Yaela Grimshaw's corpse as I left.