Chizuko’s eyes flew open. A dim light outlined a shadow over her bed. An instant before taking action, she stopped herself, feeling a sliver of coldness at her throat. With any movement, her life might be over; a blade rested there.
“Why are you here?” asked a voice, softly. The smell of citrus tickled Chizuko’s nose. A scent that had filled the throne room earlier.
Examining what she could see, a dark cloth mask covering a narrow face, royal robes, their house sigil, if there, indistinguishable in the dimness. Chizuko spoke quietly, not a hair of movement, as she assured, “I obey my masters.”
“We serve the same masters.” A surprise revelation from any assassin. “Let me do my job. Understood? Do not interfere.”
Chizuko’s mind tried to understand that. “You are not Japanese?” Glancing down, Chizuko wondered how this assassin avoided the marbles she’d spread across the floor, upon retiring. A random pattern of the little glass children’s toys.
“Of course not.” The shadowed figure’s tone rose. “I am Korean!”
“Why then, assassin? The girl is dead. Why are you still here?” Then the answer came to her, she’s not finished. Glad of the darkness, Chizuko schooled her face and body to not show this realization.
“I will let you—”
With a lightning movement, Chizuko’s arm whipped up, striking a forearm. The blade flew upward, Chizuko rose in a smooth motion. By the time she’d planted her feet, the assassin had reached the doorway. She memorized the marbles’ pattern!
Cautiously parting the curtains at the doorway, she slipped out.
The hallway, well lit by oil lamps, showed no sign of the swift knife-wielder. Taking a mallet Chizuko struck once at the alarm gong by the door. Only a guard, lying splayed at the other side of her doorway. Nothing, and no one, more. So she then struck it four times more, not knowing if alarm codes existed or not. With the tingling of having struck the gong still in her fingertips, Chizuko crouched, counting to ten, before reaching to feel this guard’s neck. A pulse and moan signaled his survival.
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