At night, Gasper was sitting with Master Rudolf in the cabin.
“The other crews should have heard about the battle by now,” Gasper said. The Viscount had attacked the Silver crew 4 days ago. Gasper pointed at the letter on the table and said, “now we need to make sure that the chiefs are convinced that our ‘merchant’ is a better choice than Canary.”
“They might still have their suspicions,” Master Rudolf said. He had taken his mask off and was leaning on the table opposite Gasper. “But they won’t just follow suspicion when they have proof that our merchant knows much more than Canary.”
“Regarding that,” Gasper said, narrowing his eyes. “If this cousin of the Viscount is so powerful, why didn’t she know of his plans to attack Luwin? She only told the bandits that the Viscount was planning something with the Red Rain band. Couldn’t she have bought one of the mercenaries and found out that the Viscount was going to attack Luwin?”
Master Rudolf grew silent. He gazed at the table, apparently deep in thought. “I’m not certain. Perhaps she wanted the bandits to be anxious. The more anxious they were, the more they would need her.”
Gasper shrugged. It didn’t matter for now. Perhaps she’d just never imagined that she would have competition from another merchant, so she hadn’t put enough effort into keeping the bandits informed. His most pressing matter now was calling for another assembly. He needed to meet the bandit chiefs again. “I will send a rider to Viper tomorrow.”
Master Rudolf nodded in response, then he stood up. “I will return to my tent then. It’s past midnight. Get some shuteye.” Then he put on his copper mask and left the cabin.
Gasper picked the letter up and passed it between his fingers. He was wondering when he would be able to return to Ard. He wondered what else the Viscount would ask of him. Most likely, Gasper would have to help him wipe out the rest of the bandits. Then perhaps after that, he would return to Ard and see his father.
He sighed, standing up. He went to his room and sought some repose in his bed. He lay down on it and gradually fell asleep.
Around him, there was a meadow, and he was lying down on his back in the middle of it. He couldn’t look around him. He could only tell it was a meadow from the corner of his eye. The only place he could look at was the night sky. There were no stars in it, but there was a full moon gazing down at him.
He could feel his hands spread out on both sides. He couldn’t move them. All he could do was look at the sky. It was relaxing, the faint smell of flowers in the air and the intoxicating feeling of comfort in his body.
But there was some faint noise in the air. A fly. It buzzed near his ear then flew up in front of his face. He stared at it in bewilderment. It was small and without color. He could see the light of the moon through it easily. The only thing that made him capable of actually seeing it was the way light reflected off some parts of its wings.
It swerved around his head and buzzed near his ear again. At first, its buzzing was bearable, but soon enough it became louder. Then louder. Then louder.
The buzzing near his ear eventually became deafening. He panicked. He tried to blow some air at it with the corner of his mouth. But the more he blew, the louder it got.
The buzzing didn’t stop. He could feel the pain caused by the sound in his ear. “Go away!” he yelled again.
“It won’t,” a man’s sound came from nowhere.
He didn’t know who it was, but he hoped that whoever it was would help him. “Why? Why won’t it go away?”
“If you want it to go away, you have to wake up.”
“What?” Gasper said, his head aching slightly.
“You have to wake up.”
“Yes. Wake up.”
“Wake up,” the voice echoed.
“Wake up,” Gasper said, opening his eyes on his bed. He was looking at the ceiling. But that wasn’t what unsettled him. His words had frozen the fly in place.
Except it wasn’t a fly. In the corner of his eye, he could see someone in black, frozen in the middle of climbing in through the window. The shadow on the window quickly snapped out of his trance and hopped in. He was wearing light black leathers, and a cloth was wrapped around his head, hiding his face with only the eyes uncovered.
Gasper jumped up from the bed in cold sweat. He grabbed his sword that was nearby and was about to draw it when the shadow descended upon him with a dagger. Gasper tried to evade to the side, but the dagger followed him, barely missing his ribs and burying itself in his left arm. Half the blade of the dagger went into his arm, cutting through his flesh thoroughly.
He tried to kick the assassin away, but the latter pulled the dagger out and leapt backwards on his own.
The assassin unsheathed a sword. Gasper drew his sword as well. His left arm was bleeding badly, and he would likely have to fight with one arm. He was about to yell for help when the assassin leapt forward with a thrust.
Gasper stepped to the side and parried it, only for the assassin to follow the thrust with a vicious slash towards his neck.
Gasper raised his blade in time and blocked it. But his sword almost slipped out of his grip and he felt a familiar numbness in his hand as the swords clashed. ‘Sky Warrior,’ he gritted his teeth.
He was about to leap back and try to yell again, but he heard a tearing and piercing sound then saw the tip of a sword protruding out of the assassin’s chest. The assassin looked down at the blade sticking out of his chest, his eyes wide with shock. He coughed what Gasper assumed was blood, but the cloth on his face held it back.
Gasper wasn’t certain what had happened at first, but then he stared behind the assassin and saw a familiar copper mask, covering the face of one old steward.
Master Rudolf pulled his sword out of the assassin’s back, and the latter slumped to the ground.
Gasper was still stuck in place, unsure of what to say or do. But he saw master Rudolf kneeling down and uncovering the face of the assassin. The latter was still choking on his blood. He gargled, hopelessly trying to breath but to no avail.
Master Rudolf frowned and grabbed the assassin’s face. “Can you speak?”
The assassin kept gargling with no response.
Master Rudolf shook his head and stared at Gasper. “He will die in a few moments. We can’t get anything out of him. You don’t know him, do you?” His voice was still as serene as ever, not the least bit anxious.
Gasper snapped out of his shock and approached the assassin. He knelt down and stared at the plain face and dark hair. “No. I’ve never met him before.”
Master Rudolf nodded, as if expecting such a reply. “I don’t think any of the men noticed what happened here. Let’s take care of your arm and hide the body for now.”
While they spoke, the assassin slowly stopped struggling, his life leaving him. Then he lay motionless.
“How did you know?” Gasper suddenly asked, his hand pressing his wound.
“Inexperienced thieves and assassins have a common habit,” the old steward said, pointing at the dead man in black. “They move like cockroaches, pacing then stopping to look around every now and then.” He gazed at Gasper. “And I always keep my tent open so that I can hear better.”
Gasper grew silent. He didn’t really know how to respond. Cockroaches? He rubbed his forehead and panted, feeling grateful that the old steward’s tent was nearby. “Why are we hiding him?”
“There is no need to let your men know of this,” Master Rudolf said. “At least not until we know who he is.”
Gasper nodded and stared at the dead man on the ground. Why would a Sky Warrior come after him? He hadn’t heard of any lieutenant who was a Sky Warrior among the bandit crews, and he’d seen all the chiefs. He couldn’t think clearly yet, but he would have to find whoever was behind this sooner rather than later.