Friday, September 16, 2005

Sword of the Night

I am the shadow in the darkness.

He stood by the outcropping and gazed upon the waning sickle of the moon overhead, wreathed in wispy night clouds. He felt his callused hand twitch upon the sleek black Heckler Koch holstered by his side. The air shimmered with invisible tension. The smell, that smell...he could almost taste it on his tongue.

Tonight held the greatest oppurtunity for him. His trade had oftimes involved actions that changed the course of history, but the power that came with it never attracted him. It was the chase that fascinated him. The chase, and something more...intimate that even he knew not, and dared not know about. A seed that was anathema to his entire nature.

As an assassin.

He had no name. He did not exist. His life was tied to a clandestine agency whose very name was not revealed to him, whose payments were invariably in cold cash. Untraceable. He had no ties, no acquaintances, no friends, relatives, loved ones. He had never had them. He stood there that night, waiting, even as his keen sense of timing counted the drawling seconds that led to his target acquisiton, and tried to recall, to reach his tendrils of faltering memory into the miasmic past.

Nothing. It was as if he had never been a child. That blood had always been on his hands, dripping red life from innocence. Money? Self-justification? Envy? Or satisfaction in skill? The assassin did not know what made him kill. But when he saw the expressions on his targets after he had dispatched them - those rare times they had remained alive long enough to display emotion - he had seen flashes - flashes of kindred kind and shared sorrow flitting like an ephemeral star through their dying gazes in the seconds before they had died.

With each successive kill, the skill and the prestige - at least among the ones in the know - had increased. But so had that...strangeness that made that vague sense of self-doubt well in him.

They had families. He had never known family. And if he died right now, right then, there would be no one to mourn. An unmarked grave, an innocuous death no more tragic than the falling of a single leaf.

It was time, however. They were approaching, in corcodance with the assassin's predictions. Almost unconsciously the assassin made himself a mental note of approval, and slipped down, movements graceful and quick as a pouncing cat's. The undersides of his boots made no sound against the wall as he scaled down with incisive intent.

The target approached, as always oblivious, as always unwary. Flanked by two bodyguards, he considered no possibility of danger to his person. The assassin had done a considerable amount of homework on his target; understanding his impulses and security measures was no easy thing even then, but he had done the best he could do.

From his perch, he tracked his target with his eyes, recalling all he had read. He was outspoken, a politician of the masses. No skeletons in his closet - a rarity. But his messages and rhetoric made him dangerous to people in some circles, especially in a nation as fraught with tension and intrigue as this.

He had a family. A wife who by all accounts loved him well, two young children. He was going to kill this man who gave more to society than he could ever have, this man, who, had he been a citizen of this nation, he would have shouted with the rest to bring to office, and he was going to kill him for...what? Money?

He knew that he would kill this man if he chose to. But would he? Could he deny the purpose of his existence for this sentimentality?

Emotion is the greatest weakness of the assassin. He knew that mantra well. But what if emotion was not the weakness, but the strength? Would not killing be that quintessential weakness that humanity could do better without? He had never thought this way - his training had involved the truth - which was truth more often than not - that the people he dispatched were better off dead, corrupt, slobbering inept men who lived off the juices of excess. But this man was not.

The target was approaching, close now. The assassin's hands twitched on his gun as the dilemma wrestled with his resolve. His head filled with flashes, images of a funeral and gray and green and black, and the weeping of three whose his actions would affect the most.

But he was an assassin. Trained against such emotion. He could not abide such weakness, for that weakness meant that his life would be a failure, fraught by weakness and sin. It was his ideal, his driving force, and the only bride he would take. His mind clouded by guilt and anger, hesitation and a rabid desire to kill.

Closer. What would he do? Closer.

Dispatch.

The assassin did not have the time to think. He drew his Heckler Koch and held it with one hand even as he used the other to pivot around a bar, lowering himself gently on the ground. Then he drew his knife in his other hand and crept up behind the bodyguard in the rear. The arm with the gun closed like a vice around his abdomen even as the knife sliced a bloody rictus at his throat. Choked on blood, the bodyguard made no sound, and swiftly as a snake the assassin raised his gun while supporting the bodyguard in his arm and took two quick silent shots - one at the brain stem, the other at the heart, for safety. The man jerked and collapsed. The assassin knew he was dead. And soon even the bullets dislodged in his body would dissolve into unassuming constituents of water and glycerin. The assassin slipped away before the other bodyguard could turn and see him.

But something happened that had never happened before. As the assassin fled, he was weeping. Quiet tears that had not fallen for so long, held by a stony heart that never shied from killing. At first he tried to push them away, for tears would admit that he had done something wrong.

But the irony of it did come through. He had done something wrong. And the tears flowed freely and unashamedly thereafter.

***

A grave filled with regret stood before him, penitient in its regard. The assassin's weathered face held regret and deep-shadowed guilt. From his tree he had for an hour watched a woman and her two young children stand and mourn by the graveside. They would never see him in the flesh again. And their father would never be in their hearts. After they had left, the assassin knew it was his turn. But mourn for whom and what, he did not know. His association with the man he'd killed did not extend to grief at loss. Rather it was the grief for something else.

It was not grief for the man he'd murdered that filled him with the sharp pang of sorrow. It was grief for his own soul, lost long ago in the blood of his first kill.

He laid the chrysenthemums gently down on the soft grave dirt. And left.



1 comment:

Mythical said...

CHRYSANTHEMUMS - 'golden flowers'