Authors: Fionn Jameson
A CENTENNIAL CITY NOVEL
BY FIONN JAMESON
Copyright © 2013
by Fionn Jameson
Cover art © LFD Designs
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without written permission from the writer, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, any place, events or occurrences, is purely coincidental. The characters and story lines are created from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
My eyes stung from the blood.
“I’m begging you!”
As if I had any say in the matter.
My hand slipped further up the sword hilt and I clenched tighter. “I am sorry.”
But there is no answer to be got from a corpse.
Unseeing eyes stared upward at the dark, storm-tossed sky and rain continued to fall at a steady clip, the staccato of thunder almost in beat with my pulse. I reached down and wiped the sword blade on Henson’s jacket. He didn’t look like he needed it anytime soon. Clean, anyways.
The dead have little use for anything of the living.
Rain ran down my neck and I wiped at my temple, not even breathing heavily. It had taken long enough, but perhaps I had become an expert now.
An expert at killing.
“You’ve done well.”
I turned around slowly, hand on the scabbard as I slid the
into its home strapped to my back. “Were you there the whole time?”
Adrian, sporting a perpetual five o clock shadow, nodded once and took his hands out of his leather coat pockets. “That’s one less Renfield we’ll need to worry about. Good clean kill.”
I took it as a compliment. “Thank you.”
He hunkered down on his haunches and snapped the small necklace off Henson’s scrawny neck. “I’ll be taking this then. Don’t need anyone knowing who he is, eh?”
“Does it matter?”
“Not really,” he said, straightening up to his full height of six-three. At that height, he was only a couple inches taller than I was. There weren’t many women who were as tall as I was, but then again, there weren’t a great deal of them in the same trade. This was one job in which height presented quite the advantage. “But it’ll be instant proof we got the bastard. Besides, I’d rather we had it rather than the cops. Who knows what they’d dig up with this as an identification piece.”
I shrugged. “As you wish.”
“I swear, one day you’ll say more than three syllables to me” he said with a shake of his unruly head. “Never mind, then. Are you hungry? I know a nice place. They make burgers that melt in your mouth and onion rings that taste like manna. Not butter burgers, though. Those things are terrible. Just looking at one makes my cholesterol go up.”
My stomach growled at the suggestion. I don’t think I would have minded burgers cooked in a vat of butter. “Thank you.”
Laughing just a bit under his breath, Adrian Hampton walked out of the blood-slicked alleyway.
“You have disposed of the necklace, I presume?”
I inclined my head, taking care never to match gazes with the old man. “I have, Elder Chang.”
“That is excellent news,” he said, stroking his chin with long, lacquered fingernails. “It will not do to draw their attention. They must not know of our intentions before we are ready to reveal it.”
“Of course, Elder Chang.’
He gestured to the chair in front of me. “Sit.”
Refusing an Elder is tantamount to betrayal. “Thank you, Elder Chang.”
“I’ve heard much of your skill, Hwang,” he said as I pulled the chair out enough so my knees wouldn’t bang into his desk. “There are many who compliment you. A female such as yourself is an asset to us. A woman can infiltrate a location where a man can not. There is a proverb that says a small thorn can bring about greater harm than a sharpened battle axe…should it be in the right place and the right time.”
I stared down at my scarred, beaten hands clasped in my lap. “Thank you, Elder Chang.”
Silence reigned in the richly decorated chamber as he considered me for a moment, one finger poised on the curve of his chin. “You are loyal to us, are you not, Hwang?”
He grunted in satisfaction and traced a circle on the thin stack of papers in front of him.
“You are to be our greatest weapon, girl. This is something only you can do. We’ve tried to break through his defenses with a battering ram, but doing so has provided us with nothing but a trail of dead bodies. Perhaps a petal can sail through when a battering ram cannot,” he said in a contemplative manner. “It is not without its dangers. I’m told you fear nothing. Is this true?”
What a stupid question. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Elder.”
A corner of his lips kicked up under the thin, well-kept mustache. “A simple yes will suffice, Hwang.”
“Yes,” I obliged.
“Good, good,” he said, pushing the papers in my direction. “Your next orders.”
I did not spare them more than a cursory glance. Extermination orders. “You will have me dispose of a vampire.”
He nodded. “Not an ordinary vampire. You have heard of the one they call Noir?”
One of the four vampire lords sharing power within Centennial City. “And he will be my target?”
And such a target I have never come up against before.
“He is quite old, Elder Chang,” I said, choosing my words with care. “Who have you sent before?”
He let out a sigh. “Rammstein.”
I didn’t know what to say. “Rammstein is a…formidable warrior.”
A bear. A living tank, perhaps.
And he failed?
“A modern barbarian,” mused the Elder. “We hoped Rammstein’s bloodlust would carry him straight to Noir.”
“But that was not the case.”
Elder Chang laughed bitterly. “No. The vampire sent him back to us.”
“That was magnanimous of them.”
“Hardly,” he said, voice dry. “He sent Rammstein back in a box. Parts disassembled. Cleaned. Almost as if the man was an automaton that had broken.”
A mental image flashed in my mind and the onion rings did not taste good, rising in the back of my throat. “They were meticulous.”
“That is not the word I would use,” he replied. “In any case, he did not work.”
“Obviously, Elder Chang,” I said. “But if a monster such as Rammstein could not get to the vampire lord, then what hope is there for me?”
He huffed. “I’ve spoken of this earlier. If a battering ram will not work, perhaps a petal will. You are that petal, Hwang. You can slip through his defenses. You are our most accomplished. It does not please me to use you in such a situation.”
In a situation where your death would be the only likely outcome,
he might have said.
I suppose I should have expected something like this. I did not have a great deal of influence to spare me from the brutality of the system. There was, after all, only one way to leave the Fellowship. “Then I must prepare.”
“I truly am sorry.” He almost sounded apologetic. “It was not my doing to send you to him.”
“There are plenty such as I, Elder Chang.” I shrugged. “The Fellowship has my life. I will do anything for the Elders.”
He went still and I knew he was not acting.
“I’m sorry you would say such a thing,” he said softly. “It is a shame you have been chosen. But there is no one we can send to do this. You truly are the best. If you cannot exterminate him, then I don’t think anyone else can.”
Time to go.
The chair slid back silently on the polished wooden floor as I stood up. “You are too kind with your words, Elder Chang.”
He scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous, girl.”
I bowed low, low enough my hair brushed my feet. “If you will excuse me.”
“You are excused,” he said, back already turned, no doubt occupied with some other matter that plagued the Elders.
When I slid the paper door closed behind me, Adrian stood up from his perch atop a flat buckwheat cushion. “What did they want?”
He seemed mildly peeved. I thought I understood why. After all, most orders were given to the handler. That they had asked me to do this directly meant only one thing: they did not want Adrian to know.
They did not trust him.
It did not bode well for his continued employment with the Order.
And that made me sad, because Adrian was the only person I trusted.
“Nothing,” I said. “Just to inquire as to the status of Henson.”
His pale blue eyes narrowed. “The man you killed yesterday? But I already submitted my report. They must’ve already seen it.”
I shrugged negligently. “I suppose they just wanted to hear my side of it.”
“Think nothing of it,” I said as an attendant, quiet and dark with the familiar expression of vapid good humor, handed me my canvas coat. “Let’s go.”
Adrian struggled into his coat while I did the same. “Don’t see why we ought to leave in such a hurry. My mailbox was empty.”
What a surprise. “That’s rare.”
The hallway to the main courtyard was blessedly empty, and Adrian put a hand on my shoulder. “Are you sure that’s all you and Chang talked about?”
I can do confused very well. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Adrian. Is everything all right?”
His dark Russian eyes narrowed, but I have been stared at by the best. Adrian was scary…but he wasn’t that scary. “You’re hiding something from me, aren’t you?”
I shrugged and pulled away from him. “You’re my handler. You’re the one who knows if I have duties. I don’t know why you’re so worried. Isn’t this a good thing?”
“A good thing?”
He followed me out into the main outdoor courtyard and we sat down on the porch to put on our shoes. Shoes were never allowed in the Sanctuary. I liked it. Reminded me of home. Few things were good about my childhood, but the sense of cleanliness and order…now, that was something I missed. “Yes. A good thing. I’m tired, Adrian. I haven’t had a day off since…I don’t even remember.”
The night was quiet, peaceful even, with the occasional plop as a koi fish jumped out of the large pond to snap at a passing bug and I leaned back on my hands, staring up at the endlessly starry sky. “This is good for me. I’m sure you’d agree.”
“Well…” He stood up, hands stuck deep into his pocket, and stood in front of me. The shadows made it impossible to see into his handsome, even-featured face. “I guess that’s true. I could do with a vacation.”
I did not feel an iota of guilt prick my conscience as I took his proffered hand and let him pull me to my feet. “You talk about Miami all the time. You should take this opportunity to go there. Get some sun. You’ve been looking rather pale, recently.”
“I’m always pale,” he said, laughing under his breath. “All right, you got me, Ran.”
The two guardsmen shuffled to attention as we came to the two large wooden doors serving as the entrance and exit of the Sanctuary. “You don’t believe me.”