A sharp cut
Red eyes slid critically across his latest mark, held tight and still by the bonds his own delicate hands had placed. A thrill touched him as he caressed the taut middle with a gentle hand.
He was almost finished with this one.
Screams echoed down the concrete walls from some further room, but he paid them little mind. They were a background chorus to his masterpiece.
His tools lay next to him, arrayed in a perfect line, gleaming in the light.
He took up the sharpest of them, running his fingers over the metal, savoring the work to come.
He leaned over his immobile target, eyes noting each place where his tools had already left their lasting stamp.
It was time.
His hand was rock steady as he laid the sharp metal against the stretched surface, and pushed with slow but inexorable force. It pliantly parted for him, and the metal sunk below the surface, dragging a splash of crimson in its wake.
He repeated the motion again and again. Each time the surface quivered, unable to flee, giving him a thrill he found nowhere else.
He lost all sense of time as he pierced and pulled. He was exacting, not caring how much punishment he laid upon the surface. He worked until he was satisfied, his target a beautiful splash of crimson and red, like an abstract painting.
“Now, one sharp cut,” He whispered, repeating what she’d taught him that first time. It was like a mantra, a ritual. “To finish everything off.”
The scissors made short work of the last thread and he held up the fabric, still taut in its wooden hoop. The design was one of his own. He’d seen it in his mind, one night, in a dream.
He was sure Cazella would love it.
Light from the hallway seeped under the door, illuminating a swath of thick carpet, decorated with a pattern of roses. In the shadows, near the window, a foot ghosted silently across the woven petals.
Mahogany, tobacco, rose hips, and a lingering hint of wine filled the night visitor’s sensitive nose. There was something else, underneath the richness, that only someone like him would be able to catch. A trace of sweat, urine, and fear, long since faded, ran like a gentle, but insistent, undercurrent. A small bloom rose each time his padded feet pressed the petaled carpet.
Someone had been terrified in this room. Someone had suffered.
That was why he was here.
Green eyes shifted to a gold-plated clock on the mantel that ticked softly toward midnight. He knew he was safe. He’d spent several days studying the owner’s schedule. No one had seen him and no one was coming.
That didn’t mean he wouldn’t still be cautious.
He hovered next to the huge bed like a phantom, garbed in shadow, peering down at the sleeping figure. The woman looked tiny among the mass of down pillows, swaddled like a child in thick sheets.
White hair curled around her head, catching the hall light and giving her a halo, face relaxed, untroubled. She was even dressed in a white nightgown, the picture of piety.
But he had not been sent here to kill an innocent. He didn’t need the scent of fear to tell him that.
He drew his razor-sharp knife, it too catching the light, glinting like the fang of some hungry animal. He gripped it tightly, taking cold comfort from its firmness.
It’s easy, came the whisper in his mind, unbidden. He pushed it away.
He didn’t want it to be easy, ever. This might make him an assassin, but he didn’t want to be a killer who enjoyed the act. This was the edge, the final divide between old life and new. All these years of hard work and denial had been building to this moment.
He would remember every detail, from the scent of her soap, to the rustle of the curtains, all of his senses hyper aware.
He lifted the knife, hesitating no longer, and his hand moved in one decisive, sharp cut. He may as well have been slicing through air.
Her eyes flew open, but he’d already taken her ability to scream.
Blood welled from the cut across her neck, perfectly made so she suffered as little as possible.
He didn’t look away as her nightgown and the tips of her hair were stained red, as she tried to gasp for air, turning wide, pleading eyes on him, while knowing it was already too late.
He didn’t look away as the life bled out of her, and his nose filled with the tang of iron.
It had not been easy, but it had been right.
Still, his emotions danced within him, rioting for his attention.
He focused on the work, finishing the ritual. Two feathers. One he laid on her chest, pinned under her arm so it wouldn’t float away. The other was dipped in her blood, and bagged, to be taken back to the guild and tucked away in a binder somewhere, one among a multitude.
Lastly, he dipped his fingers in her rapidly cooling blood, and marked his own forehead with it, as testament, and remembrance.
He crossed the carpet of roses, taking eagerly to the roofs, sucking in lungfuls of the clear night air.
It was finished, finally, his old life severed from his new with one sharp cut.