Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Make the Villain a Hero Challenge: "Blood-Stained Hands"- By Lizzie Meddler

Blood-Stained Hands
By Lizzie Meddler

Author's Note
Assassins are criminals, but let's face it - assassins are also freaking awesome. ^_^ I've always loved stories about assassins, so it's no surprise that assassins are, in fact, rather heavily featured in my bigger story The Freelance Chronicles (and you won't find any annoying female assassins with serious attitude problems here! Bring back male assassins!). In writing about one such (side) character, I realized that he had a really big backstory and was, in fact, much more important than I initially thought. This is a somewhat "watered down" version of what will probably be a much bigger side adventure in The Freelance Chronicles.

I am not a bad person. I kill only because it is necessary.
            The blood pooling at Aalar al-Hadaar’s feet, soaking into the exquisite rugs and clotting the hair of the woman and her two children, spat the words back at him.
            I am not a bad person. I kill only because it is necessary.
            The woman and children had nothing wrong. The patriarch of their small family, an honest rug merchant who had inherited the business from his equally-honest father, had also done nothing wrong. They had all been well-liked and well-respected in the merchant village on the outskirts of Balibar.
            I am not a bad person. I kill only because it is necessary.
            The man who had hired the Ebeti Diken was a rival of the rug merchant’s. He had done many things wrong; cheated his customers, drowned the stray cats his daughter loved so much, lied and besmirched good merchants who did business better than he.
            I am not a bad person. I kill only because it is necessary.
            The Ebeti Diken didn’t question their clients’ motives. They took contracts that benefited them and them alone. This client was a good source of information; he frequented the hooka shops and gambling dens and was well received in many harlot houses. The Ebeti Diken willingly granted favors to their informants.
            I am not a bad person. I kill only because it is necessary.
            But it hadn’t been necessary. Aalar al-Hadaar knew that. The lying, cheating merchant was only one in a thousand informants the Ebeti Diken had at their disposal. If they had lost his assistance, they could have found another. But Aalar al-Hadaar needed this one more kill before he would be ranked a full-fledged katil.
            I am not a bad person. I kill only because it is necessary.
            And above all, Aalar al-Hadaar, once the youngest son of Ha’mash al-Hadaar and now the sworn brother of the Ebeti Diken, Arridia’s most revered assassin’s cult, wanted to be a katil, truly on equal standing with his brethren. Because no matter how much Aalar al-Hadaar told himself otherwise, he was born to be an assassin. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than the thrill of his work.
            I am not a bad person. I kill only because it is necessary.
            There would be no evidence that he had been there, beyond the bodies themselves - and a circlet of dried thorns left in their blood. So that all would know that it was the work of the Ebeti Diken.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Aalar sank deeper into the hot spring, naturally cut from the blue-flecked marble, his guilt washing away with the blood. 
            The Ebeti Diken called no single place their lair. The assassins holed up in every corner and crevice of Balibar, in neighboring townships and villages, their eyes and ears stretching far into even the most distant caliphates. They entered into the territories of other assassins’ cults with the greatest courtesy, though none would have dared deny the Ebeti Diken whatever they desired. Still, the assassins found it best to handle things with the utmost decorum and diplomacy, rather than exercise the brutal strength they undeniably possessed.
            But even though they reached far and wide, the Cansiz Palace was the favored gathering place for the brethren. It wasn’t a real palace, not anymore. Little more than ruins some miles from Balibar, with connecting underground smuggling tunnels to the city, the Cansiz Palace housed crumbling fountains, gnarled and neglected fruit trees, and not a shred of the distinctive blue stone for which it was named. 
            That is, until one went underground. Through the centuries, the assassins had carved out a close likeness to the previous grandeur of the ruins. Underground springs cut pathways through an orchard, feeding marble fountains and natural-cut hot spring pools just like the one Aalar now bathed in. Vast training halls echoed at all hours with the sounds of knives and staff practice, and the familiar thrum of bowstrings.
            Most acolytes lived at the Cansiz Palace until they were considered katil. Aalar’s first master, whom he had only known as Usta, had kept him at his secluded home on the far southern outskirts of Babilar, before he had brought him to the Cansiz Palace. And here Aalar had remained, gaining as many kills as he was assigned so that he could rise above the other acolytes and join the katil, and then he could leave this place if he wished.
            Aalar ran a hand over the blue-black tattoos tracking their way down his right cheek. Usta had given them to him, after his first kill at the young age of thirteen. Even then, Aalar hadn’t shied away from the poisoned blade his master had put in his hands. He hadn’t been sick at the stench of copper as the blood ran over his fingers and splattered on his face. His first kill had been messy, but not anymore.
            “If the Heyeti weren’t saying differently, I’d suppose that things went poorly by your expression.”
            Bare feet slid into the water next to Aalar as Bastian Sariidd sat at the lip of the marble pool. His friend flicked water at him.
            “It went well,” Aalar replied.
            The dark-haired boy, twenty to Aalar’s eighteen, regarded him with serious silver-blue eyes. Bastian Sariidd was a strange person - even Usta had agreed with this assessment in his quiet way. Built like an acrobat, mild-mannered, and studious to a fault, no one quite understood how it was that Bastian had become one of the Ebeti Diken. He possessed none of the deadly silence so present in many of the assassins and he enjoyed nothing more than keeping the orchard. No one could say what heritage he could lay claim to, with his raven-black hair and strange eyes and cinnamon-dusted complexion. But everyone knew he had been with the Ebeti Diken all his life - and that the Heyeti only sent him on justice strikes - murderers, rapists, war criminals, fleshmen; the worst of the worst.
            Perhaps even stranger was that Bastian Sariidd had kept Aalar’s company ever since Usta had brought him to the Canzis Palace. There were already high expectations for Aalar al-Hadaar. He was efficient, yet ruthless. He turned down no contract. He spent all his time constantly training. No one picked a fight with him; no one had ever dared try.
            Aalar al-Hadaar was an assassin born. And Bastian Sariidd had absolutely no business being there at all.
            “Something weighs on you, my friend,” Bastian said. “What was so different from this contract that you flogged yourself for it?”
            It was Aalar’s secret; no one - not even Usta - knew that he mortified his own flesh after most of his contracts. Aalar al-Hadaar enjoyed his work, but he knew he should not. He didn’t want to. For every life he took, he carved a new mark into his arm. For every family, he laid open his back with a lead-tipped flail.
            I am not a bad person. I kill only because it is necessary.
            “There were children,” Aalar replied. He dropped his head into his hands. “I wish to be called kalir - it’s my purpose now, to take life, whether or not it’s deserving. But it will be at the cost of my soul. I will not join the stars once I am dead. I know it and yet I seek my doom with eagerness.”
            Bastian said nothing. He knew when to stay silent and when to give counsel.
            “Why is it different for you?” Aalar suddenly demanded. “Why are you the only one among us who always kills those who deserve it? You don’t understand the poison that eats at our souls, as we kill and kill again.”
            Bastian looked down at his hands. “Because there has always been the Weeping Assassin, and my family has always held that role. Though I think you would be more fitted for it.”
            Aalar didn’t smile.
            “Listen, my friend. Your soul can’t be totally damned if you feel remorse for what you do.”
            “I do not feel remorse for what I have done,” he muttered. “I feel remorse because I am not sorry for it.”
            “Your self-inflicted wounds would say otherwise,” Bastian commented. He leaned back to look up at the cavern ceiling, etched to map the starlit skies. “How many more until you are kalir?”
            “Five,” said Aalar.
            “And have you thought of who you will choose as your blood-sworn?”
            Aalar had been deliberately not thinking about it. Kalir always swore a blood oath with one other of the brethren, he above all others the closest to him, the one most trusted to guard the other’s back. They would protect one another during contracts, depend on one another’s counsel and discretion. One’s blood-sworn would never even think of betrayal.
            Bastian still stared up at the imitation stars, little more than dots of white glass. “Aalar al-Hadaar, I will be your blood-sworn. And so long as I am at your side, your blade will not take another innocent life.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Aalar felt no pain when the final set of tattoos were inked into his skin, marked over his left eyelid and down his cheek. He didn’t flinch when he swore his creed before the Heyeti, the ten eldest assassins and leaders of the Ebeti Diken, and laid open his wrist to swear his blood-oath to Bastian Saliidd.
            He felt nothing but solemn contentment when he was told to, “Arise, Aalar Kalir, brother of the Ebeti Diken and blood-sworn of Bastian Saliidd Kalir, the Weeping Assassin.”
            Aalar al-Hadaar no longer existed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was unusually cold that night, the sky empty of the moon and her twelve handmaiden stars looking forlorn without her. Aalar and Bastian had chosen this night for that very reason. A black moon was the friend of assassins.
            The streets of Balibar were quiet, save for one specific house, crowned with the distinctive rose-washed walls of a nobleman’s dwelling. The arched windows spilled out lamp light and the happy chatter and laughter of many guests. An oudist could be heard plucking out a dance tune and the rich scent of spiced lamb and fresh falafel drifted out on the evening breeze.
            The nobleman’s son and his close friends and family were celebrating his engagement. The girl, it was said, was the fairest creature to ever behold; in any other caliphate she would have been taken for the caliph’s harem, she was so fair. Best of all, she would bring a tremendous dowry to the marriage. And even rarer still, it was predicted to be a truly happy union, as the girl and boy were genuinely fond of one another and had been for quite some time.
            But it seemed that another family had had an understanding with the bride’s uncle. They would not take the girl now; they no longer wanted her. But nor would they tolerate such a slight.
            It was simple: Aalar and Bastian were to kill the groom this night, the night before his wedding, and send his left hand to the bride’s uncle. The girl herself did not have to die. They had other plans for her.
            Aalar and Bastian waited in the shadows adjacent to the house, so silent and still that none knew they were there. And when the revelries died down, they crept from their cover and climbed up to the young groom’s room. It was so easy; the family had no reason to suppose that anyone would wish them murdered. The two assassins were so swift and quiet that any personal house guards never suspected a thing.
            The groom lay slumbering deeply in his bed, too much wine weighing down his limbs and making him oblivious to all danger. That familiar sense of heightened excitement thrummed in Aalar’s veins as he crept closer to the boy’s bed. It was always there, no matter how simple the job.
            Bastian and Aalar positioned themselves on opposite sides of the sleeping nobleman, dark harbingers bearing his doom. Aalar gave Bastian a slight nod and he shook the nobleman awake, clamping a death-grip over his mouth and a thin dagger to his throat. Aalar pinned the nobleman’s arms down.
            Despite the excessive drink, the young groom recognized the danger he was in. His eyes widened in horror at the two cowled men keeping him pinioned to his bed.
            “Amar al-Dubar,” Bastian said in a low voice, “you have done nothing wrong. But it is at the behest of another that the Ebeti Diken visit you now and take away your life. We are sorry.”
            Aalar was used to this speech by now. He found it no less strange than when Bastian had first done it. He apologized to all of their targets, unless it was someone deserving of their death. Few were awake for the apology, to witness the bizarre sight of genuine regret on an assassin’s face before ending a life. But their client wanted Amar al-Dubar to know what was happening.
            The young nobleman struggled, but Aalar’s grip was firm and Bastian’s even firmer. With a final blessing for a swift eternal rest, Bastian slid his dagger into Amar al-Dubar’s throat. Blood drenched the dying boy, but it was a clean kill and the life left his eyes before he could feel much pain.
            Aalar extracted a braided circlet of dried thorns from his pocket and put it on the body while Bastian cut off the nobleman’s left hand with a quick stroke of a heavier-bladed dagger.
            Their work was done. Quick. Efficient.
            Aalar’s hands free of any real blood.
            Such as it had been ever since he and Bastian had become blood-sworn. They took contracts together, hunted down their targets together, got equal credit. But it was Bastian - always Bastian - who dealt the fatal blow. They never told the Hayati. They had only allowed the blood-oath after Aalar had sworn that Bastian would never kill anyone undeserving of it. Bastian Saliidd must always, first and foremost, be the Weeping Assassin - the bringer of just death.
            They kept lodgings that night in Balibar. There was another contract to enter into the moment they gave the severed hand to the intended recipient. Aalar hadn’t realized that being a kalir meant the number of contracts he was assigned to would merely increase.
            Aalar disappeared momentarily from their lodgings to get food. When he returned to their room, it was to find Bastian bent double over a basin, coughing so violently his shoulders shook. Black tar streaked the sides of his mouth.
            “Bastian!” Aalar ran to his side.
            Bastian gave one final heaving cough, wiping at the black tar and smiling somewhat sheepishly. “I wondered when it would catch up to me,” he muttered. “For a while, I wondered if the Hayati had been lying to me all this time. I guess not.”
            Aalar frowned at his friend. “What do you mean? What’s wrong with you?”
            Shakily, Bastian got to his feet and collapsed to his pallet, brow pale. “I didn’t want you to find out, but. . . .Well, it looks like it’s unavoidable now. It’s the Weeping Assassin’s duty to grant a just death to those deserving of it. It’s a sacred calling, given to us by the Djinn. For centuries, my family has kept that role, one after the other. We are of the Ebeti Diken, but we aren’t like the rest of you. You noticed this from the beginning.”
            Aalar had to admit that he had. Bastian had joined the other acolytes in training, associated with them when free time permitted. But he had always been summoned at odd hours by the Hayati, been given extra training, and there had never been any clear moment when Bastian had gone from acolyte to full-fledged kalir. Expectations were different for him; that had been obvious to everyone, though no one had been told that.
            “The Weeping Assassin kills only those deserving of it,” Bastian repeated, staring absently down at his own hands. “If the Weeping Assassin ever takes a life undeserving of death, if he ever corrupts his sacred purpose with innocent blood, the poison of such a heinous deed will blacken and poison his soul until he dies of it.”
            Aalar stared at Bastian Saliidd in silent horror. For months now they had been working contracts, and always Bastian had given the fatal blow.
            For Aalar. To keep him from blackening his own soul with the blood of more innocents, to keep him from falling into the dark abyss of evil deeds and derision for another’s life.
            “You knew this would happen,” he said, curling his hands into fists. He was angry at Bastian - and appalled at himself for ever allowing it. Even if he hadn’t known what it would do to Bastian, how could he have ever allowed him to kill in his stead?
            Aalar Kalir was not a good person. He knew he wasn’t He had been a fool to ever try and convince himself otherwise. Bastian was the good person; the one who would join the other stars when his life finally ended, no matter how blackened his soul became.
            Bastian smiled. “I’ve been told of it ever since I was a child, though I began to doubt it when there were no adverse effects after our first few contracts. Then I began to feel it, the creeping coldness in my chest, squeezing my heart.”
            “Why? Why would you do this for me?”
            “Aalar al-Hadaar, my hands are no less free of blood than yours. But unlike you, I have never fought against my duty to kill. You call yourself a bad person because you do not feel remorse over the lives you’ve taken. But only a truly remorseful person would punish themselves for not feeling sorrow over what they’ve done. I justified what I did; I said they deserved to die, I reminded myself that it was my sacred duty as the Weeping Assassin. I cannot save myself or our other brethren, but I can save you. I can help you fight your demon. My life is a small price to pay for the hundreds I’ve taken and will continue to take.”
            Aalar’s shoulders shook with pent-up emotion. “How much longer can you do this before it kills you?”
            “I don’t know,” Bastian replied.
            “Then this I tell you: you won’t kill for me again. Perhaps there is salvation for me somewhere, but if you die because I am too weak to face the blood staining my own hands, that is a death for which I cannot hope to be held responsible for and then be redeemed. We are assassins; we must carry our own guilt and we must fight to keep our humanity even as we steal it from others.”
            Bastian clasped Aalar’s hand. “Then let us face our demons together, brother.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I am human. My blood-drenched hands are proof of it. I have chosen this.
            Aalar al-Hadaar, kalir of the Ebeti Diken told himself this as the blood dripped from his dagger. The body now stretched out on the floor was another assassin, once of the Ebeti Diken, turned traitor and having defected to another assassins’ cult.
            I am human. My blood-drenched hands are proof of it. I have chosen this.
            Bastian Saliidd was bent over coughing up that black tar which stained his soul again. He did not kill for Aalar anymore; not unless it was to defend him. But the damage had already been done.
            I am human. My blood-drenched hands are proof of it. I have chosen this.
            The Hayati would find out. Or perhaps they already knew. Maybe that’s why they had sent them all this way across the ocean, to the hellhole known as Mishall in the Cyrollian empire. Maybe they had hoped that Aalar would die along the way - maybe they had hoped that they would both die.
            I am human. My blood-drenched hands are proof of it. I have chosen this.
            But Aalar suddenly realized that he was wrong. The Hayati didn’t want either of them dead. They had sent them to Mishall, after this particular assassin, because they knew he would lead them to this brothel house - and to the dark-eyed young woman now kneeling next to Bastian, offering a scrap of flimsy cloth torn from her own skirt to wipe away the black tar.
            Her next words, so simple, were what made him realize this: “You’re dying.”
            The Hayati had sent them to save the Weeping Assassin.


Copyright 2017 by Lizzie Meddler

(Read The Freelance Chronicles Here)


  1. Okay so, I am kind of in love with this. I think you have crafted the perfect assassin character. Aalar is awesome and good at his job, but you can totally also sympathize with him despite everything he has done. The fact that he will flog himself for certain kills, because he *doesn't* feel remorse, just…gah!

    And his brotherhood with Bastian… I love the idea of the blood-sworn and their relationship is so awesome. Bastian the Weeping Assassin only killing those he deems fit for death except when he does it for Aalar *dies* My heart. These are the kind of friendships I love to read about and you have got the heartache and loyalty/sacrifice perfect in this.

    I cannot wait for you to extend this story. Very good :)

    1. Aalar was one of those characters who was totally side-lined, until I actually started writing him. Then it was, "Hello! There's a lot more to you than meets the eye!" ^_^ Aalar's remorse over the fact that he *doesn't* feel remorse when he knows he should is absolutely my favorite thing about him. It seems like such a small thing, but I think it speaks volumes of just how complicated he is.

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  3. This was a very interesting story. I liked Aalar, even though he was assassin.

    1. Thank you! ^_^ Like Bastian, I hold hope that there is redemption out there for Aalar someday.

  4. This was pretty spectacular in a bloody sort of way. Granted, it was a bit odd, but aren't all good stories?

    1. The whole literal blackening of one's soul is pretty odd, isn't it? ;) It was an idea that floated into my head out of the blue when one of my friends "jokingly" said she could see my soul blackening in a conversation, and that got the fantasy-side of my brain turning. "Hmmm, what if someone's soul literally blackened? What would happen then? And wouldn't it been cool if there were a sect of assassins who were all dying because a person can't live forever with a blackening soul?" It took off from there - with some refinement, naturally. ^_^

  5. This had excellent writing and fascinating protagonists! An entire novel with Aalar and Bastian as the main characters would be splendid.

    1. I won't say it's impossible - an entire novel with those two! ^_^ Aalar and Bastian are ultimately part of my bigger universe (i.e. The Freelance Chronicles), and a lot of what the Reader will learn about them was originally intended to be told through a series of flashbacks. But the more I think about Aalar and Bastian - and the "mysterious" girl they rescue at the end of this story - the more I'm leaning towards giving them their own spin-off series!


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