Shouting threats at people and waving a gun in the air is a time-tested method of clearing a path through a crowd. But the process also leaves a lingering trail that a determined pursuer can take advantage of if he is brave—or if he happens to know the standard Hyumbarian pistol only holds five rounds.
By the time the killer made it to the service door that was to have been his escape hatch, I’d nearly caught up with him.
I was close enough to see a look of abject surprise appear on his face when he yanked on the door handle and found it locked, close enough to see where he looked in his moment of desperation. He shot a panicked glance at Bishop Quartho, as if to shout “What now?”
And because I was close enough to see those things, I was also close enough to see his look of panic get displaced by one of horror and disbelief an instant later.
Quartho pulled a gun from his blouse for the second time that evening, and then the sound of five new rounds being detonated echoed through the Klatho ballroom.
Unlike Lord Klatho, the kid tried to block the bullets with his hands. Unlike Lord Klatho, he looked as though he were about to cry as the bullets lanced into his heart, as if each sharp violation stung like fire.
As young as he was, maybe he would’ve cried if he’d lived long enough.
A muted sound of agony escaped the boy’s lips as he collapsed, taking a tray of finger sandwiches down with him. From the floor, his hand stretched toward the locked door, as if hoping it would miraculously open this time, if he could only touch it again.
With his hand still grasping for the impossible, he swiveled his head to stare uncomprehendingly at Quartho.
That last, forlorn shred of hope did him no good. As it failed him, his arm fell limp. Despite his best effort, his head followed it a moment later, just before his eyes fluttered closed.
A small, red puddle began spreading out from underneath him. That tiny pond flowed more sluggishly at some points than others, its leading edge patiently deforming and reforming as it enfolded imperfections in the ancient stone floor.
The body shuddered.
Quartho spit out a command as I stepped forward. “Halt!”
When I stopped, it was due less to that shouted order than to the sight of the bishop slapping another clip into the handle of his pistol—the same weapon he’d just used to pay off the dead kitchen helper. The look he gave me then left no doubt; he would make it a two-for-one sale if I twitched instead of freezing in my tracks.
A pair of careful soldiers approached the dead assassin. One kneeled down to render some inexpert first aid, rolling the dead man over, ripping open his shirt and laying a finger against his jugular. The other hung back, his rifle trained.