1 Setting a Fire to Warm a Cold Body
It was cold.
Bone chillingly cold.
To be honest, Gao Lin couldn't understand how her sister, Tachibana Ayami could withstand such chilliness as they waited for the target that they weren't even sure would come to appear.
"Nee-sama, are you sure they'll pass under this old bridge?" Gao Lin couldn't help but ask, feeling impatient as they have already been sitting and waiting for nearly two hours.
"Shh. Be quiet. They'll be here any minute now." Ayami replied seriously, her eyes never leaving the spot where the road emerges from the thick forest.
Gao Lin and Tachibana Ayami weren't actually blood-related siblings. Both of them were orphans who were abandoned in the streets of Gretzheims. This situation was actually more common than most people would think. Especially in the Kingdom of Gretzheims where the real rulers were the Board of Assassins and the royalty were near non-existent.
After being taken under the wing of a reknowned assassin, Ayami felt kindness for the first time in her life. That was when she decided to follow the footsteps of her adoptive mother and became an assassin herself.
Unfortunately, good things never last. It wasn't long before she found out that her adoptive mother died during one of her missions.
Sticken by grief, Ayami vowed to find her adoptive mother's killer and avenge her. Due to her intense desire for vengeance, unknowingly, she bacame a fearsome character to the citizens of Gretzheims, with her name and deeds spreading even to other kingdoms.
Most people wanted to stay as far away as possible from her, afraid that they would become the next target in her list, but, to the people who required urgent assassinations, her name was like a piece of bread to a beggar.
Soon, more and more people asked for her services. Some missions even requiring her to travel to distant lands. It was on one of her travels that she met Gao Lin, an orphan who was abandoned by the border between Gretzheims and Ruthell, a mysterious country north of Gretzheims.
At that time, Gao Lin was barely eight years old, but, due to malnutrition, she actually looked no more than six years old. Now, ten years have passed and Gao Lin has become a fairly attractive young woman who was often seen following behind Ayami as she went on her missions.
Which leads us to the current situation.
"Nee-sama, aren't you even feeling cold?" Gao Lin shivered as she asked Ayami, visualizing the image of a hot mug of tea and her warm bed at home.
"...It is a bit cold." Ayami reluctantly admitted, then glanced towards Gao Lin with an indulgent look. "Just wait for a bit more. We'll head home after we finish this mission and I'll even make some mutton stew for you, alright?"
"Why can't we go home now? You can just finish the mission on a later date!" Gao Lin groaned.
"Shh! They're here." Ayami lowered her body, hiding behind the overgrown weeds that grew at the side of the old bridge they were on.
Accustomed to following Ayami's actions, Gao Lin lowered her body as well, peaking through the leaves to see their target's arrival.
Seconds later, they heard the crisp sound of horseshoes hitting the cobbled roads and were soon greeted by the sight of three elegantly dressed men riding on equally elegant looking horses.
The horses galloped quickly, as if in a rush. Ayami predicted that within a few moments, they would be passing under the bridge they were hiding in.
Calculating the timing in her head, she quickly stood up when the men were unable to see them and sprinted across the bridge and, with great precision, she jumped off, right onto the back of an unsuspecting rider.
Or that was what she thought.
Right when she stabbed her dagger onto the body of the rider, she suddenly felt as if something was wrong.
There was no blood.
Hastily, she withdrew her dagger and jumped off the horse, kicking the man off with her.
She landed swiftly on the path and quickly checked the body of the man she had just stabbed.
It was a fake!
This was a trap!
When she came to realize what had happened, it was already too late.
One of the riders already turned his horse around and was charging straight towards her. Not having enough time to react, she was directly blown away by the force of a horse's charge hitting her. It was lucky that she didn't get trampled to death directly.
With her whole body in pain, she struggled to get up. It was certain that if she managed to survive this ordeal, her whole body would be filled with bruises of various shapes and sizes the next day.
When she finally managed to stand up, she realized two important things.
One, her left foot was constantly spasming. She predicted that it was either sprained or fractured.
Two, she was surrounded.
"Well, well! If it isn't the fearsome assassin, Raven. Or should I call you, Miss Tachibana Ayami. Not so fearsome now, huh?" The rider who had charged at her moments ago said mockingly.
"If you think that you can threaten me by surrounding me, then you must be mistaken." Ayami said grimly, her eyes looking right back at the rider coldly, refusing to back down as she put on a defensive stance, ignoring the pain on her leg. "But, I'm curious. Who informed you that you were my target? Was it Benedict? Pasha? Or was it Yssid?"
"The person who betrayed you? I'm afraid I can't tell you. Let's just say, this person is closer to you than you think." The rider sneered. "Anyways, I truly think that you're becoming quite rusty, Miss Ayami. You didn't even notice that something, or should I say, someone is missing! Maybe it's time for you to retire."
"What do you mean?" Ayami was filled with a forboding feeling.
The men surrounding her suddenly out laughing. For what reason, she didn't know. All she knew was the sudden feeling of helplessness when she saw a tied up, unconcious young girl thrown in front of her.
It was Gao Lin.
Seeing the young girl she raised on her own, she immediately wanted to rush up and check her condition, but, the rider in front of her blocked her way abruptly.
"Nuh-uh! Where do you think you're going, missy?" The rider mocked.
"What do you want?" Ayami grit her teeth and asked coldly.
"It's simple. Drop your weapons and surrender to the court." The rider grinned as if he had won a million gold brules. "It's time the nobles take back the kingdom."
So it was the doing of the nobles!
Choosing to compromise for the time being, she lowered her dagger to the ground. What she didn't expect was that the man behind her would directly kick the back of her knees, forcing her to kneel on the ground and making the pain on her left leg much more evident.
Right when she was about to get up and attack the person behind her, she felt a cold, sharp object scrape her nape, halting her movements.
"Don't kill her yet. I still need to get some information out of her. Intell from a famous assassin is very precious." The rider ordered, then turned towards Ayami. "But... If you swear your allegiance to me, we can lighten your sentence."
Just as Ayami was about to reply, a voice that chilled Ayami's heart spoke from behind them.
"Can I stop playing dead now? My arms are going numb." Gao Lin said as she sat up, rubbing her arms.
"Ah, miss Lin! Have you had you fun already?" The rider asked.
"Indeed. It was unfortunate that I couldn't see most of her reactions though." Gao Lin laughed helplessly, as if talking about a funny thing she just saw. "How is it, nee-sama? Was my acting good?"
So it was actually Gao Lin who betrayed her...
Of all the people she knew, the only one she never guarded against and doubted was Gao Lin, the child she had carefully raised.
Who knew she would actually make such a blunder? Ayami sighed regretfully.
"Ah... I repeatedly adviced you to go home a while ago. Unfortunately, you didn't heed it. If only you did. Then, things wouldn't have ended this way!" Gao Lin shook her head in disappointment.
Ayami too, was disappointed, but, for a different reason. "I see." She said quietly. "Then, I understand... Your parents were killed by me after all. I understand."
"You bacame what I didn't want you to become" Ayami suddenly grabbed her dagger which was on the ground."
"Stop her!" The rider ordered but it was too late.
"You became like me." With her arm raised, she determinedly....
"Now I face my retribution..." Ayami fell to the ground, and slowly, her body began turning cold as her blood escaped her body.
"Damn it!" The rider shouted, perhaps feeling regret from the lost intell they could've gotten from Ayami.
"...Sir. What should we do about the corpse?" One of the men asked hesitantly to which, Gao Lin replied.
"Set her on fire. Nee-sama said she was feeling cold a while ago. The least I could do for her is let her die warm."
Mmm... Good girl...
Ayami closed her eyes, already lost the feeling from her body to the point where she didn't even notice when she started burning.