Slam! Slam! The woman pounded the second nail into the door frame. Inside, unable to see her through the closed door, a fat and fearful merchant cowered, his family holed into their rooms, gathering wealth.
Around the corner, guards ran toward the woman, who looked up in shock from under her hood, then hurried off, her loose smock blown against her thin body by the wind of her forward momentum. Her bare feet slapped against the hard packed earthen road.
Her hood flew back, releasing a long, black braid into the wind. Her brown skin was bleached by the full moon’s light, and her dark eyes were hidden by the shadows from her bangs.
Her chest heaved as she ran further, the sounds of creaking armor behind her.
The patrols were supposed to be elsewhere! She only hoped they wouldn’t remove the nails.
A gust of wind drove into her face, sending sand at her eyes. She stopped and covered them, and then fell back as she felt a sharp yank at her braid.
One yanked her up by the arm and inspected the flesh beneath it. “Some of Elder Hamni’s missing property.” He pointed to the old burns along the side of her ribs.
“The thief, by her hand. One less to try to hunt down for him.”
The woman stared for a few moments at the trio, then began to thrash. “Let me go! He is dead, and dead men have no slaves!”
The first guard laughed. “You didn’t hear, then? He survived the assassination attempt, identified which slaves betrayed him, and has offered a reward for their return.”
Suddenly pale, the woman pulled again, trying to free herself. “No, no. That can’t be right!” She yanked more forcibly, and could feel her hair yanking at her scalp.
The third guard, silent and small, looped rope around one of her wrists and secured it tightly. Her fingers tingled as she struggled against the tight grip of the first guard. “Help!” She shouted, pulling away as the first guard released her. She found herself yanking at a rope that dug into her wrists the more she struggled, and seemed only to tighten as she pulled at it. “Let me go! I did nothing wrong!”
The second shook his head as the first laughed. “We don’t care.” He leaned in close, gripping her braid to keep her from headbutting or biting him. “Now, you’re going to undo the magic you did on that house, and then you’re going to do anything else ordered of you. We’ve been told, after all, that we can turn you in dead for a reward, as well.”
The woman froze, then spat at his face.
As he lifted his moonlit blade above her, she flinched.
He pulled back her head by the hair, and she gasped.
He drove his knife into her neck.
Flesh parted, and icy metal vibrated as she gagged on the blade and vomited.
When she woke, she was in a grand stone hall with a high-ceiling, surrounded by empty suits of armor, paintings on the walls, and statues and metal sheets along every wall. In the middle of the room, on a glass-domed pedestal, sat a book, a stone, and two nails.