Dawn was beginning to rise over Castle Arbessos. Kara had retreated like a shadow from the room after Megame had fallen asleep, creeping through the cold and empty castle halls before flitting out an open window and moving stealthily up to the roof. There she waits, like a great black raven, perched delicately on the edge of the great slanted roof, one leg hanging out into the biting air of early morning.
Her rifle was slung over her shoulder and her cold blue eyes scanned the horizon beyond. In the east, the rays of the sun were beginning to creep over the fog-laden landscape, piercing the upper canopy of trees and revealing the sharp outlines of twisting branches, as well as the low thatched roofs of the nearby town. The morning birds had begun their chorus, letting it echo up from the trees to fill the empty dawn air with piercing song. The still clouds hung heavy in the sky, tinted by the red light of the rising sun.
Red sun at morning sailors take warning, Kara thought to herself idly. She checked her rifle for perhaps the twelfth time since finding a spot on the roof. All flawless. She didn’t know why she checked. This rifle hadn’t been made by mortal hands; it didn’t need maintenance and it never ever missed.
The gun could almost do her job for her, Kara thought ruefully, but in truth it was nothing but a tool. At the end of the day it needed an eye to look through the scope, and a finger to pull the trigger. That was her job, to take the shot that needed taking. It was good work, she told herself, and she had gotten very good at it.
One shadow working through the forest marked the return of her quarry. She didn’t know if Constantin had left to feed or simply to attend to business in the town that evening, but she knew she would have to be waiting for him upon his return to the castle. It was the perfect opportunity, one she could not let slip away.
She picked up her rifle, balancing it on her elbow and rested on her knee to give her stability and support as she stayed in her seated position. She sighted his movement among the trees with her eyes before looking into the scope. He was fast, and he kept to the forests of the trail leading to the castle.
Smart, Kara thought idly as she followed his movements. She didn’t know if he expected her, maybe he even wanted her to act, but even if he was keeping to the woods there were a hundred and fifty meters between the edge of the woods and his front door. Too long for him to have a hope of making it.
Kara’s eyes were good, some of the best. She had often been acknowledged as having the finest vision among Valkyries, who could already best eagles with their supernatural vision. Kara’s eyes were so good, it was said, that she could even see the future. Kara didn’t make such boasts. For one she didn’t need to, her skills spoke to themselves. The rifle never missed but that was as much her handiwork as its. It could have been any old weapon and Kara still never would have missed a single shot.
But only one thing in the universe truly knew the future, and Kara wanted nothing to do with her.
Constantin’s shadow moved closer to the edge of the woods. Kara’s finger moved to the trigger.
It was said that only a stake through the heart could kill a vampire. This wasn’t strictly speaking true. The sun more often than not was the real killer, or fire. The stake served merely to pin the vampire there until they were adequately incinerated. No one on Earth believed that a vampire could be killed by a gun.
Kara’s gun did not have bullets with a silver coating, the tips were not hollowed out and filled with Holy Water, there were no holy symbols etched across their surface and there was no garlic anywhere on her person. Still she had no doubt in her abilities. There are things stronger than vampires, stronger than myths and magic, and they were Kara’s employers. It could be said that her gun didn’t fire bullets at all, certainly she never ran out of ammunition. What Kara fired was nothing short of death itself, a conceptual demise wrapped into a bullet-shaped package able to bring down anything they struck. If everyone has their name carved on a bullet intended for them, then Kara’s would be etched with “To Whom it may Concern”.
The shadow moved to the edge of the trees. Kara exhaled softly, her body like stone. She felt the wind, the roof beneath her, felt the world itself focus upon her. Constantin would cross the threshold, and perhaps he would have a tenth of a second of realization before oblivion hit him at Mach three.
In that moment, Kara felt herself become the weapon, just as the rifle fired the bullet at the pull of her finger, so too was her finger pulled by the briefest tug of fate. Here and now she was no Valkyrie, her name was not Kara or any other, she was simply an instrument of fate.
She paused. An unnatural feeling overwhelmed her as something held her finger back. Another force tugged at her body and mind, keeping her at bay. As she watched through the scope, Constantin entered the open air. Her instincts screamed at her. He should be dead.
Kara recalled Megame’s face, the vehemence with which she had spoken. She was going to find a way to spare his life, to bring him back on fate’s intended path. Kara didn’t believe her, not for a second. You can believe in luck all you liked but there was no fighting destiny. Her finger twitched, but it could not squeeze the trigger.
Something about Megame’s face kept her transfixed, unable to make that necessary final motion. What was holding her back? What had changed her mind? What had the Shrine Maiden done to her?
Constantin was crossing the empty yard between the gate and the door now. Defenseless, at her mercy, and now Kara found herself without the will to fire.
Was some other power at work, perhaps Megame’s patron goddess trying to play a game above its level? Kara shook her head, trying to clear the nagging thoughts form her mind. She needed to be balanced, her mind at peace, to even try to make this work.
Did she simply not wish to face Megame after going behind her back?
Constantin crossed the last few meters, the gates opened to greet him. It was now or never. Kara stared at him through the scope, her finger trembling even as she felt the cool metal of the trigger pressing against her thumb. The lightest force, the squeeze of the finger and Constantin would die, and Megame would never speak to her again.
What did she care? Why would the opinion of one lost Japanese girl matter to her in the slightest? Kara didn’t care about the morality of it. She had long since made peace with who she was and what she did for a living. She was Fate’s dagger, the cleansing wind to wipe chaos from the world and leave it clean behind. There was no other way.
Constantin crossed the threshold into the castle and out of sight.
Kara inhaled again, her body falling to ease as she placed the rifle beside her. She had failed. She had not taken a perfect shot. She had extended a mission already well-past delayed. There would be repercussions.
And they would be coming swiftly.
There was no great rush of wind and energy, now swirling clouds or darkening sky. Kara’s master did not need all the pomp and circumstance the gods so regularly demand. After all, she did not need to “arrive”, she was always there, precisely at “now”.
“You are missing a fine opportunity Kara.” The cold voice of her handler made Kara’s blood run cold. She turned and saw her standing on the roof, not minding in the least the dramatic slant of the tiled roof as she stood perfectly straight.
Kara didn’t respond, lips tightly pursed as she prepared for the fallout.
She was the middle sister of three, lacking youthful beauty but still in the prime of elegance and grace. She was dark in dress, hair, and eyes as she looked down on Kara. There was no amusement on her face, simply an expression of disappointment and the oncoming “correction” to Kara’s behavior. Kara knew her best as Verdandi, but she had many names and best known of all was “The Present”, second sister to Past and Future.
Verdandi, it seemed, was not pleased with her silence either. A thin silver chain appeared in her hand just as Kara felt a collar form around her neck. Before she could do anything (And there was nothing she could have done) she was yanked forcefully towards Verdandi as the chain simply pulled itself through her hand, dragging her closer until Verdandi’s face was directly in hers, the pair of them dangerously close together.
“Sweet Kara,” There was no kindness in her voice, the Norns had none to spare. “Clever Kara, why do you test my patience?”
“Next time” Kara murmured, feeling the collar chafe at her neck.
There was a true terror in being this close to one of the Fates. Their human disguise was barely skin deep, and there was something terrible and empty within the shell. Verdandi ran a finger down her cheek, and Kara could feel an almost overpowering mixture of cool pleasure and absolute terror. If she was lucky this would be as close as they got. She wasn’t lucky often.
“I do not deal in next times, Kara.” Verdandi was still feigning a sweet voice, but Kara could feel the bite in it. “Nor do I deal in opportunities that you fail to take. I deal in now, just as I must now make demands. Why am I here?”
“It is nothing.” Kara murmured again, but a sharp tug at the collar told her that Verdandi wasn’t buying it.
“It is not nothing. It work that I attend to; it is my time and attention that you are putting to waste. Now why am I here?”
“…The Shrine Maiden.” Kara admitted. “Megame. She…is bothering me.”
She felt Verdandi’s hand loosen somewhat at the chain.
“The shrine maiden.” Verdandi’s face was unreadable. “You are letting a teenage girl interfere?”
“No!” Kara said vehemently.
“Then why am I here?”
“It won’t happen again.”
Verdandi’s dark eyes seemed to grow darker. “If the Shrine Maiden is a problem, then I am asking you to solve it. Or I can solve it, if you would prefer.”
“Solve it?” Kara knew Verdandi’s solutions tended to be brutally efficient and permanent.
“Sweet sister Skuld can see to her, I have no doubt.” Verdandi said. “One less problem to deal with.”
Kara felt the bottom drop out of her stomach. She was irritated by Megame, annoyed that the chipper shrine maiden could get under her skin and worm her way into her work. But she didn’t want her “seen to”, especially not by Skuld.
“No…” Kara managed, before quickly correcting herself before Verdandi’s eyes turned fierce. “I mean…that won’t be necessary. It will be taken care of, much soon than later.”
There was a terrible tense moment when the chain did not move before Verdandi finally loosened her grip.
“See that it is.” The cold woman said “I do not suffer failure.”
Kara bowed her head, knowing she had gotten off somewhat easily. Verdandi was possibly the kindest of the norns, but her mood could shift in an instant. She had personally experienced just how painful Verdandi’s pleasure could be.
As memories of those times filled her head, Kara couldn’t help but rub at her neck…and touch her scarred skin. She had to do something, and she had to do it fast. No…not fast…
She had to do it now.
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=37&sl=878