First in a Haibun Cycle
The killer sat on the bench outside warlord Kahlid's chamber. She thought of her implements, stowed safely in a hay loft outside the borders of the hastily-built fortress. She heard the warlord's booming voice inside, swearing oaths to the dark hereafter about something. It was not her concern. She had not been given a mission. Even if she had, warlords and even kings didn't yell at someone from her order. Not without a brace of bowmen to hide behind. In any case, her sort did not survive to tell tales of failure and defeat. That was not their way.
The door opened. “He'll see you,” an old man with his left eye gouged out told her. He held the doors wide. A soldier, stabbed through the tender area under his arm, was dragged out, dying quickly from a pierced lung. He made a bad-death noise, rattling low in his throat. His eyes were blank as his head lolled toward her. The killer stepped over the blood and did not give the man a second look.
The warlord had been handsome once, and big with rolling muscle. He had run to fat and been twisted by his indulgences. He was now unpleasant to look upon. The killer looked him in the eye nonetheless, her expression a careful void.
“You have work for me?” She was aware of how melodious her voice was, how inviting. Her master had told her it served as a fine counterpoint for her enforced sternness, that it would keep people off balance in their dealings with her. It would make it harder for them to lie well. They still lied, and lied badly, of course, but that was only to be expected.
“Yes,” the warlord said after a moment of staring and shifting on his throne. “This business in the southern hills. A Dolgur has been blundering into towns, killing off the peasants. I want you to track it.”
“Kill it, of course,” he blustered, waving his bloody hands at her. He had delivered the killing stroke to the soldier, then.
“Very well.” The killer turned to go.
“Wait, Namira,” he called.
Namira was not her name. She turned toward him and waited, one hand resting on her Ka'Javiila, her throwing pick. She decided to smile, a small and demure smile. It would get her out of the room, with its putrid smell, more quickly. She imagined that the warlord, Kahlid, would be dead by midsummer. Something was eating him from the gut outward. Even above fresh blood and the dying lapse of bowels from the soldier, she could detect the rank, cloying odor.
“Don't kill the thing where anyone sees. Kill it out in the wilderness. Announce your business to no one. Tell no one you're contracted to me.” The warlord coughed heavily and blew his nose onto his sleeve.
“More will die if I wait.”
“So be it. I want no mention of the Ghost Society in conjunction with me. I want to be able to congratulate a squad of my intrepid men for hunting down the beast. Your order has been paid. It needs no extra acclaim. Agreed?”
The killer nodded. “Fine.” She walked from the room, and from the sloppy pile of stones making up the fortress. Astride her war camel, she swayed easily between its two tall humps. A Dolgur. No fee would have been necessary to take that contract.
A death-run engine
this world of blood and shadows
this land filled with graves
Perfection in death
killing instrument so keen
horror of beauty
It is best to kill
most human among all deeds
our darkest birthright