Honey and Vinegar Chapter 1

By Black

She pressed herself flat against the wall as she heard the footsteps of yet another sentry guard from above, but it was to be expected. This wasn't some local lord's manor that she was robbing. This was the palace of Marquis Dionne-Lehve.

The girl knew that she was in over her head here, but it was too late to back out now. Besides, a million gold pieces was a million gold pieces. Still, she wasn't sure if she'd live to collect that reward. She was confident enough in her abilities, but the fact remained that she was young and inexperienced.

Cecilia heard the footsteps fade into the distance and her thoughts quickly returned to the task at hand. She had to act quickly before the guard returned. She felt along the wall for a foothold, but the stone was smoothed to the point that it seemed like one, giant rock. The Marquis was definitely prepared for infiltration. Cecilia was prepared for this, however. She reached inside her black ninja garb and retrieved a brace of short knives, and then plunged one of them into the wall. It slid in as if the stone were made of butter. She pulled herself up and jabbed the other knife into the wall as well. The ninja pulled the first knife free and continued her climb, one arm then the other. It was a long climb, but she made it with ease, whereas anyone else's arms would've fallen off by now. She pulled herself over the ledge and tucked the knives back beneath her tunic.

Her ears picked up the sound of footsteps. The soldier was returning. She quickly dropped down the other side of the massive stone wall, landing gracefully on her feet. Cecilia immediately rolled into the shadows before any wandering guards could spot her. She crouched against the cool surface off the wall and seemed to become invisible. It was as if she had become a part of the wall. For the time being, the young ninja was safe. It felt like she was a good ways into the complex, but in reality there were only about fifteen yards of stone between Cecilia and her starting point. It was going to take a lot more to get to the Marquis' sleeping chambers and then get out again. Even if she did have the skill to make it that far, would she have what was required to finish her job? She didn't know. She'd find out if she made it to that point.

Cecilia saw two guards pass each other as they patrolled to opposite ends of the courtyard. It was time to move again. She quickly knifed her away across the perfectly trimmed lawn and marble walkway while the two guards had their backs turned towards her. She silently dove behind a row of bushes just as the two men turned back around and proceeded to walk towards each other. It had been a close call and her heart was pounding rapidly. This was good. This is what she needed. There was no greater motivation than pressure. But she had to be careful that pressure didn't become fear. With fear, one could be motivated to do the wrong things.

But wasn't she already doing the wrong thing? No. It wasn't a ninja's place to decide what was right and wrong. Because it didn't matter what was right and what was wrong.

The young girl crept along the side of a large building, her sharp eyes on the lookout for more guards. The smell of oil and machinery soon filled her nostrils. She was outside of the ATAC hangar. The Marquis' quarters were close now.

She peered around the corner of the large building and saw her goal. It was a large house next to a dojo and about fifty yards across from the ATAC hangar. The bright moonlight spilled into the square which separated herself and the Marquis' chambers. The night, her only ally up to this point, had betrayed her. Now she was on her own.

Two guards stood outside the door of the large house. They almost looked like statues. Spears were held at their sides as they stared straight ahead with unblinking eyes. They looked intimidating, and Cecilia could tell that they wouldn't hesitate to kill an intruder if they saw one. But she wouldn't be seen. She darted right a hundred paces and pressed herself flat against the ground. She was far enough away from the two sentinels where she could not be seen. Slowly, she crawled across until she was parallel with the dojo.

With ungodly speed, Cecilia ran to the wooden building and crouched down beside it. She kept low as she walked behind it and made her away across to the Marquis' house. It was a large wooden structure with a narrow, wooden deck surrounding its perimeter. Though wide, it fortunately had only one floor. She leapt onto the wooden railing and grabbed hold of the slanting, shingled roof. Cecilia hauled herself over and laid in wait until she saw a single patrolman walk by. He walked laps around the house, keeping his eye out for anyone stupid enough to sneak into the home of Dionne-Lehve. She waited until he rounded a corner, then dropped herself from the roof and onto the deck. Quickly, she took out one of her knives and began to quietly cut a square shape into the glass. She could hear the guard coming around the other corner just as she finished making her incision. A large pain of glass fell onto her palm and she quickly slid it beneath the wooden railing and onto the grass. The hole she had made was fairly small, but it was big enough. She quickly dove into the opening and rolled quietly to her feet. She was now inside the home of one of the most powerful men on the Continent. Outside, she heard the guard walk by the window. He didn't seem to notice the hole and he kept walking.

Inside it was dark, but Cecilia liked the darkness. She had been born with what seemed like night-vision. She could make out the slighest details on an object twenty feet away and she could detect the slightest of movements. She could see but could not be seen. That was how she liked it. That was how all ninjas liked it.

The room she was in was bare of any furniture save a small table for eating. A rather impressive collection of weapons adorned the walls. There were spears, katana, axes, and qui made from the finest steel. The craftsmanship was of exceptional quality. A master blacksmith was probably commissioned to make it all. Cecilia was now learning a little bit about the Marquis, and he was no longer just a contract. He was a person. She was beginning to doubt that she'd be able to do what she had come here for. She had a respect for the man now. It was far too late to quit, though. She pulled out a knife and quietly walked into the adjoining room. There she saw the sleeping Marquis. His face was that of a leader. It was a strong, hardened face that commanded respect. A full, white beard showed his relative old age, but she knew that he was still a strong man that was not someone to be challenged on battlefield. But this was not a battlefield. This was not even a battle. She would win because her opponent was incapable of fighting back. This was not honorable. But she was a ninja. She was a mercenary. Her honor was money.

She stood beside his bed and raised her knife. She would slit his throat so he could not scream. Then she'd sneak out the same window and disappear over the wall. From there, she'd find her ATAC and collect her money. But she still wasn't sure if she could do this. She had never killed before. Not even in a fair fight. There was a first time for everything, though. Cecilia told herself this as she lowered the knife.

She lost her chance. Her hesitation had cost her everything. A powerful hand caught her wrist as it was just inches from the Marquis' throat. She felt her arm being twisted behind her back and she dropped the knife.

"If you weren't so cute, I probably would've killed you half an hour ago." The voice was cocky and arrogant. It was annoying. She'd have to silence it before anyone else heard, namely the Marquis. She reached inside her cloak with her free hand and retrieved her other knife. She prepared to swing her arm around and catch him in the throat, but her captor was one step ahead. He grabbed her arm and twisted it so that he had both of them behind her back, and both knives on the ground.

"Mmm, I like it rough. Don't you?" the man asked. She tried to shove her heel into his shin, but he predicted this and had kicked her behind her kneecap, sending her to her knees.

"This is great!" the man laughed, "I love it when a woman gets on her knees for me."

Who did this guy think he was?! She had never heard such a foul mouth before in her life. She felt humiliated to have been beaten by such an obnoxious pervert. Cecilia felt him release his grip on one of her arms and she prepared to take immediate advantage of the freedom. Before she could act, however, the razor sharp edge of a dagger was pressed against her throat.

"Not like this." Cecilia muttered in defeat. "Not by some dirty old man like you."

"Old?! Hey! You're no more than two years younger than me, missy!" he yelled. He spun her around so she could see his face. He was one of the ugliest men she had ever seen. He had thick, bushy sideburns and a long, pointed nose. He was right, though. He looked about eighteen, not much older than her sixteen years.

"It doesn't matter. Just kill me and get it over with." Cecilia said and closed her eyes.

"Huh? Hey, relax. I told you that you were too cute to kill, remember?"

"Cute? You're going to let me live because I'm . . . cute? What kind of reason is that?"

"It's a great reason! Now you'll be obligated to give me something in return!"

"Like a knife in the back." Cecilia muttered.

"Ouch! That is not cool!" The man exclaimed. "I think I'm going to have to let you cool down in a prison cell for the night. Oh, and don't even think about trying to escape. No offense, but you kind of lack the skills to do so."

Cecilia couldn't help but fluster at this comment. Still, she held her tongue. She didn't want to provoke another womanizing response from this guy.

As the young man lead Cecilia outside, Dionne-Lehve let out an audible sigh and released his grip on the dagger that was tightly clutched in his fist. Maybe now he could get some sleep.


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