Midnight Air

Midnight Air

Ignoring the gut-clenching fatal drop spread beneath him, Elian planted his foot on the round edge of the skyscraper and leaned further over the abyss. Cool wind caressed his skin. He closed his eyes and let it wash over him. This high, the scents of sweat and garbage thinned, leaving only the iron tang of exhaust fumes and coal smoke. The smell of progress.

Even tainted by its industrial districts, he adored the city at night, awash in the light of tamed stars. From this height, humans were hardly noteworthy. Cars zoomed across the street grid like toys on rails. Spotlights flailed in the theatre district, painting the sky for blocks in every other direction. He missed the real stars, of course. Only a few thin pinpricks managed to show their faces through the thick haze of smog and light pollution. But it was a worthwhile trade for the intrigue, the flow, the spirit of the city.

His fingers slid free of the scaffolding and his feet skidded down the side of the building. A heart-stopping gesture even if he only slid three feet before he expertly snagged the teeth of a gargoyle with his hook. The swing around the corner was enough to give any first timer a heart attack, but Elian had been roof-hopping most of his life. They trained in trees, where there were sometimes less foot and handholds than modern architecture offered. He wondered how the clans in the guild did it, if they practiced on steel edges of the guildhall itself.

The walls of the assassin’s guild were built for climbing, to a point. After all it was the primary entry and exit for assassins at work. But above a certain floor, its walls became so smooth it was nearly impossible to find niche. One of the many ways they protected their leader from outside attacks. Not that he was interested in making such an attempt.

His feet came to rest on a lower windowsill and he jerked his hook free of the gargoyle’s mouth. He hopped from sill to sill the way a child might leapfrog the rocks crossing a river. When he reached the far edge he took a flying leap to the next roof, sprinted across the upper lip and launched himself at the next.

Unlike most assassins, Elian didn’t revel in the hunt. Tracking held no appeal for him. It was the technical aspects of his work he found appealing. The skill required to scale the side of a building, to move throughout the city without being seen. The freedom. The absolute liberty to use the city as he pleased without hindrance or consequence.

How heady it must be for the members of the guild who ruled every night.

He embraced the shadows as he descended, folding them across his sneak suit like a cloak easily drawn from the closet. Crowds of gossiping pub-crawlers passed within inches of him, never noticing the eyes that pierced the darkness. Past the seedy hotels and the stores open late. Over another wall into the classy side of town. Not the rich district, no nobility dwelt here. Only the rich merchants who played at something more, hoping to convince their fellows they had eyes and ears they couldn’t hope to catch.

Through the window, open like an invitation, skittering like a spider through the shaded study. And here his pleasure ended, unlike so many of his fellows. There was no joy in the pounce or the strike. Killing was a sad necessity, even for the masters of his craft. Take a life or give his own; the clan’s highest dictate. Intractable. Unavoidable.

Elian killed his target before the man had a chance to scream. A single blow, swift and clean. He skittered back out the window and up the side of the building, letting the midnight air wash the tang of blood from his nostrils.

Sooner or later every assassin came nose to nose with clan law. One day he would be expected to fulfill his destiny, make a bid for leadership of the guild, or die in the attempt. His target, his lover, would face the same choice the moment the masters learned with whom he fraternized. There was no end to the old feuds; every kill reminded him of that.

It wasn’t just his love, his admiration for the future guild master that stayed his hand. It was the dreams. The Eagle’s will did not align with the clan elders’ desires. But he could no more save himself from his lover’s blade than he could protect the man from his own.

If only it were as easy to die as it was to kill. To let the blade bite flesh for just a moment, and wipe the blood away when you were finished.

Now there was an idea! The city breeze filled his brain with a heady buzz. He crawled from his hiding place and navigated the labyrinth of glass and steel, letting the idea take root and grow. By the time he reached the original spire, he had his answer.

To fulfill the Eagle’s will, he would die. But only for a little while. When the time was right, when the stars aligned, he would return and show the Eagle Clan their truth path.

All that remained was the how.

Please take a moment to check out what my writing partner did with this week’s prompt!

And remember, if you’d like to participate, comment with a link to your response and I’ll feature it next week. There are plenty of prompts to choose from ;)

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