I stood on the edge of a large stone room lit by alchemical orbs casting soft white light across the faces of two dozen children as they danced to the drummers and pipers performing a traditional Ostreich folk song.
The adults looked on in their green finery. The men wore matching coats, tailored from silk. The women wore long hooded dresses in a darker green than the men. They were cut low along the bust and pulled tight at the waist, with wide skirts extending to the floor.
My dress was in the style of the other women, though a hidden slit allowed me to reach across with my left hand and easily grasp my blade, the Feuerschwert.
A red-faced dancer stared at me as she swayed from left to right, turning and twisting her hands in time with the music. I smiled, but my smile was not returned. There was fear in those eyes.
The Feuerschwert rested cold against my skin. Though secured to my waist, I feared the ravenglass might cut into my flesh, bringing out its dormant power.
The scent of roasted pork hung in the air as I examined the revellers’ faces. I took care to note the features of each person in an effort to remember. A woman’s face sparked a memory when I saw her from the side, but when she turned to me with an unsure smile, it was clear we shared no recognition.
Just one smile, just one nod of recognition was all I craved. Someone to tell me who I am — to tell me my name.
I moved left along the wall as the beat continued. Though the festivities were held in honour of Jorg Shultz’s fiftieth year, the Viscount had retired to his chamber during the final course of the feast. I stepped around a stone bust of my target, staring expressionless from a marble plinth, and skirted past a colourful tapestry that was fifteen feet across. It showed a knight bearing the Ostreich sigil of a black basilisk on a yellow field thrusting a lance into the belly of a green-scaled wyvern.
Reaching the end of the great hall, I slipped through a half-open door. The alchemical glow faded as I made my way along a bare stone corridor illuminated by wall candles. The handle of the Feuerschwert brushed against my side as my steps grew urgent. I found my way to a spiral stairway.
I ascended the steps until I reached a thick door in varnished oak. I placed my ear against the door and listened. Hearing nothing, I turned the handle. I held my breath, pulled up the hood of my dress, removed my shoes, and stepped through the door.
The corridor was dark and the floorboards cold beneath my soles. A faint glow seeped out from beneath a door at the end of the passage. I reached into my dress, removed the Feuerschwert, trembling as I held it my hands. Its ravenglass blade was a deep black — a much deeper black than the darkness of the passage.
I unhooked the skirt from my dress and freed myself from the corset, dropping them in a heap next to me. I stepped towards the door and teased its handle. My heart thundered in my chest as I pushed the door open.
A fire burned in a hearth at the far-right of the room. Above it, a portrait of a long-dead Viscount looked on with a dark, disinterested gaze. Thick green drapes hung in front of the windows overlooking the Braun Sea. I heard a shuffle to my right — it was Jorg Shultz. Our eyes met.
“What is the meaning of this?” he asked.
I said nothing and pricked the index finger of my left hand with the Feuerschwert. The Viscount’s eyes widened at the blade turned from deep black to a glowing red as it consumed the blood.
“Ravenglass,” he whispered, his eyes bulging.
I jumped back on my toes as he tipped his chair towards me. Jorg unsheathed a blade, longer and thicker than my own. With a fluid motion he rolled up his sleeve and sliced the blade across his left forearm. His blade too glowed red.
A wolfish grin rose beneath his thick blond moustache. Nobody had warned me about this.
My hands went slick with sweat. I danced on my tiptoes, feinted left, then right, trying to draw him into dropping his guard, to making a mistake.
“Who sent you?” he growled.
I shook my head. I was not going to answer him. How could I answer him?
He swung his blade in a broad vertical arc. I hopped to the right and stabbed forward with a twist of my wrist. He jerked his shoulder to the side. We both straitened up, regaining our stance.
We circled each other, his blue eyes locked with my own. I dived forward, striking the back of his leg. He let out an agonised scream as the blade hissed, its magic tearing through his flesh, burning him from within.
He swung and I moved to parry, but instead of the expected ricochet, his blade went through my own, like two jets of water crossing each other’s paths. His blade nicked my arm and I felt its fiery heat swell inside.
Neither of us bled from our wounds, but I sensed Jorg’s pain as it spread through his body. He fell backwards, looking up at me in terror. “What do you want?” he managed. His words were weak, his breath shallow.
I stood over him. His blade returned to black as it dropped from his convulsing hand. I pulled my hood down and pushed my blade into his chest.
“It’s you,” he gasped. “What—”
I pulled the Feuerschwert from his chest. “Wait,” I said. “Who am I?” I leaned down and shook him. “Please,” I pleaded. “Tell me who I am.”
But he was already dead.