"Well, screw it," I said, dropping my pencil. "I'll just fight crime in real life, not my writing."
The Archer and the Bandit
The road through the forest was dark and dry, shaded well in the early evening. It was well trodden, yet there were no travelers in view. Complete silence reigned, and peace as well.
The sound of a horse broke through, and immediately the figure that had previously been hunched against a tree stump moved, his mottled cloak making him blend in well with the surroundings. There was the audible sound of a nock connecting to a string, and the figure stepped behind a tree, his longbow in hand. The approaching horsesteps were still a little way off, so he had time.
What do I know about him? The archer asked, solely in preparation. A warrior, and a skilled one, although not a knight. According to sources in the last village he had passed through, this warrior had plagued the entire countryside, usually accompanied by a band of armed ruffians; able warriors, but far deadlier than their leader. Jacques was his name, and the villagers had other names for him; words that were muttered, and probably not decent in the least.
The archer could see movement, and half drew his bow back, waiting.
The black horse trotted into view, with two short lines of footmen following on either side. With skill born of long practice, the archer sent an arrow straight through the skull of the horse. Chaos followed, as the footmen swerved to avoid the falling horse, and the man aback of it who jumped clear just in time. The archer noted the escape as he was drawing back another arrow, which he sent into the chest of the farthest footman. Then another, and another: by the time the bandits had realized what was happening, half their number had fallen. The few with shields huddled behind them, searching desperately for their attacker.
Arrows flew in, and all but two of the footmen collapsed. The remaining bandits huddled behind their crude kite shields, waiting for a movement, or at the least a command from their leader.
Arrows flew in, piercing eyes as they peered about the shield, or feet protruding out from under. As Jacques rose to his feet from where he had fallen, he was greeted by the sight of his last footman falling to the ground, dead. He got his round shield in place just in time, as another arrow buried itself in the center.
However, Jacques was far from a normal soldier, and unlike his unlucky followers, began to run. He had some knowledge of the skill of his attacker, but even an archer of that skill could not hit a target that moved as fast, and was covered as well, as he was. An arrow buried itself in the ground next to him, another in his shield. He laughed in triumph as he reached the tree his attacker must be behind-
-But even as he lowered his shield and struck out with his sword, an arrow slammed into his right shoulder, sending both man and sword to the ground. He lay there groaning, watching helplessly as the mottled figure approached, kicking his weapons away.
“Who… Are you?” he gasped.
The figure smiled under his cowled hood.
“I am a King’s Ranger,” was the simple reply.
“I told you, I’m not interested in the price tag. I’m only interested in the target.”
Romanov slammed a fist on the table between him and Zem. “So you keep saying,” he grunted, removing the hand. “But there’s no man who kills without reward. This is a big political target you’re asking for — worth a lot of moolah.”
The blinds of the office window draped a striped pattern of light and shadow across Romanov’s being. Zem didn’t speak immediately, instead drinking in the scene. A second passed. Another. Romanov’s lip twitched, and Zem noted the movement.
“If you refuse to cooperate of your own accord—” Romanov leaned forward, shifting his cigar to the other side of his mouth. “I have ways of making you talk. As it stands, I find it highly suspect that you would meet me about the bounty only to refuse cash. What self-respecting American would do that?”
“That is not the point.” Romanov sighed, casting his gaze to the ground. One eyebrow twitched; his arm muscles moved, presumably to operate the fingers now twitching against Romanov’s knee behind his desk. The data was filed carefully away in Zem’s subconscious. “The point is, I like to understand my clients before hiring them. I do notunderstand you. Are we clear?”
“What, were you in the military?”
“No, sir.” Zem’s lip twitched, his largest show of emotion since entering the office. It could’ve been a contemptuous gesture, or an impatient one, or a nervous one; no one would be able to tell. The movement was as glacially calculated as the rest Zem had taken since entering the room.
Romanov stood up. He was two hundred forty pounds but didn’t look fat. He strode leisurely round the desk and round Zem. Zem didn’t flinch when his interviewer vanished from his peripheral vision.
“I would kill Damian Young if I had to pay you,” said Zem simply.
The footsteps paused. A questioning breath lay on Zem’s shoulder seconds before the query was made verbal. “Oh? Why?”
Zem was silent.
“See, this is why I cannot trust you.” Romanov again appeared in Zem’s vision, striding to his desk. Zem scratched the back of his neck idly, and Romanov sneered.
“What? You’re begging now—?”
“Like I said, I’ll do anything. I just don’t have the means. That’s why I came to you.”
Romanov scoffed. “Who’s hiring who here?”
Zem shrugged apathetically. Romanov’s reaction — muscles tensing, eyes bulging a little, forehead reddening — was as expected. He didn’t like losing control. He liked power. Zem was outside his domain, and that made him furious.
But he was also dangerous. Even as Zem watched, Romanov cooled off and even managed to smile. “Fine. You keep secrets from me? Just know that if you botch this job, you’re dying before the cops get a hold of you.”
“So why do you want to kill him?”
“I’ll leave now to make preparations. I left contact information with your receptionist.”
Romanov sighed in defeat and waved Zem away. The lanky man needed only three careful strides to exit the door.
Now to plan the killing of his brother.