Witch's Imperative by Scott Marlowe - Read Online
Witch's Imperative
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"Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble." - William Shakespeare

Trouble arrives for the Assassin Without a Name when he is waylaid by a woman with strange powers and a stranger disposition. Claiming she is not a witch, but "something worse," she tells him her name is Mathilda and that she wishes to hire him. The mark? None other than the supreme leader of the Warders, an organization Mathilda believes will bring death and destruction to Alchester unless they are stopped.

But the Warders aren't the only ones with such grand, dire designs. The Progressive Society, led by Gwendolyn Goddard, sets in motion an ambitious plan that will put Mathilda and the Assassin Without a Name's fortitude to the test, for they'll have to fight more than just the living if they hope to survive.

Published: Umberland Press on
ISBN: 9781516395149
List price: $2.99
Availability for Witch's Imperative: Assassin Without a Name, #7
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Witch's Imperative - Scott Marlowe

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This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

WITCH'S IMPERATIVE

Copyright © 2015 by Scott Marlowe

All rights reserved.

scottmarlowe.com

First Edition: June 2015

OTHER WORKS BY SCOTT MARLOWE

scottmarlowe.com/Books.aspx

The Alchemancer series

Book 1: The Five Elements

Book 2: The Nullification Engine

Book 3: The Inversion Solution (forthcoming)

Assassin Without a Name series

Fine Wine #1

Killing the Dead #2

Night of Zealotry #3

The Goddard Affair #4

Thief's Gambit #5

Assassin's Justice #6

Witch's Imperative #7

Standalone

The Hall of the Wood

Collections

Tales of Uhl (The Five Elements, The Hall of the Wood, The Killing Knife)

The Assassin's Blade (Assassin Without a Name #1-7)

The Killing Knife (Assassin Without a Name #1-3)

WORLD OF UHL

Witch's Imperative is a tale of the World of Uhl.

Find out more about the World of Uhl at

worldofuhl.com

Witch's Imperative

A Tale of the Assassin Without a Name #7

THE GLOOMY BYWAYS OF ALCHESTER are like a second home to me, so I usually think nothing of finding myself alone in a pitch-dark alley. But when the darkness rolls in like a dense fog, blocking both the light from alchemical street lamps ahead and the raucous liveliness of the nighttime crowd I’d left behind, I begin to worry. The inky blackness didn’t stop there, either, becoming so absolute I no longer saw my hand in front of my face. When my next breath was drawn with a gasp—it felt as if someone had tightened a garrote around my neck—I needed no further prompting; I drew my long knives, the comforting sturdiness of their bone hilts overcoming a very unfamiliar sense of panic. Such reassurances lasted as long as it took for me to realize I’d suddenly and inexplicably lost all mobility. My arms, with knives at the ready, stiffened; my legs, spaced apart and ready to spring forward or back, grew heavy; my feet froze in position. Not one to capitulate under any circumstances, I strained against my invisible bonds until I felt my heart might burst from my chest, all to no avail. Hell and damnation, I’d really stepped in it this time.

Despite my physical impairment, my mind was clear, so I shoved thoughts of defeat aside and quickly analyzed my predicament. Sorcery was at work here, perpetrated by unknown parties. Someone wanted me alive—breathing, while difficult, was not impossible—but probably not for long. Vapors such as these were meant to obscure only one thing: murder. My murder, if I didn’t find some way to free myself. After another series of futile attempts that earned me nothing more than a fine layer of perspiration on my skin, I realized I might have better luck wishing for one last swallow of this evening’s burgundy gueterie. ‘Delectable’ did not begin to describe the smoky overtures drifting from the full-bodied wine. Exquisite fell short of characterizing the spicy plum of its flavor. Paired with the finest cut of lamb I’d enjoyed in some time, it had at least been a fitting last meal.

I wasn’t sure what to expect next. Knives flying at me through the dense fog? A crossbow bolt directed toward my heart? Or, given present circumstances, perhaps a ball of sorcerous fire blazing a path through the dark right before it burned me away to nothingness? I was definitely not expecting a flurry of black wings, a pair of copper-flecked eyes, and a vicious, pointed beak opened wide to deliver a familiar screech. I would have cringed at the noise—and joyfully reached out and throttled the fat crow—if I could move.

Maaaaaaaa!

At each of our previous encounters, the mysterious crow had made an effort to assail me with claws and beak. This time was no exception, the bird deciding to get such niceties out of the way immediately. My usual salvation—my lightning-quick reflexes—were useless under the influence of the crow’s debilitating magic. I knew that was a ridiculous thought; crows did not perform magic. But this one had harried me too many times for me to consider our meetings coincidental. As far as I was concerned, its appearance under such dire circumstances labeled it the responsible party, and I suspected the crow was no crow at all, but a sorcery-wielding shape-shifter.

Wings spread wide, the crow continued on its path straight for my head. Right when I was sure it meant to take one or both of my eyes out, it pulled up. Wings smacked me in the face, but only as a precursor to the crow settling on my shoulder.

Teeel-da! the crow said, blasting its odd noise directly into my ear. Then it had the nerve to chortle.

If you mean to shat on me, I said, discovering my speech unhindered, then go ahead and do it already, you idiotic chicken. At least reveal yourself once and for all. I know you’re more than a crow.

The bird chortled again, deeper this time, and then took flight, flapping away into the thick dark.

With the crow gone, the alley returned to stillness. Strange that no passerby, drawn by the sight of the unnatural darkness, came down the alley in my wake. The street from which I’d come was one of the heavier trafficked ones here in the Shambles. While I expected no help from the shady denizens of this hellhole of a district, I wouldn’t put it past them to take advantage of my helplessness. But no one wandered into the alley, nor did the crow return to bother me. I remained alone in the quiet, gloomy darkness, wondering if I’d ever see another living being again, when finally I heard footsteps coming toward me. The misty dark seemed to part, or at least grow less dense, as the approaching figure became visible.

The newcomer—a woman, by her slightness of build—wore a hooded cape and clothing so dark I might not have even noticed her if I hadn’t heard the clop of her shoes. She walked directly toward me, each step bringing her into sharper focus. A small mouth with narrow lips pressed together stood out from the shadow of her hood. Her hands, hanging loose at her sides, were tipped by darkened finger nails. She was lean, and perhaps six inches shorter than my own six feet. Her weapons, a dagger and small sword, remained housed in their sheaths at her belt. With a handful of paces still separating us, she stopped and drew back her hood. Plum-colored hair framed her delicate features: high cheekbones, a dainty nose, and green eyes shadowed all around by a dark, sooty substance. I hesitated to label her skin as pale, for it was more like the tint of ash, and marked her as something either otherworldly or tainted by death magic. Only one thing was certain—here was my shape-shifting crow, taken human form at last.

Or so I thought, until the fat crow streaked back into view. The bird squawked once while still in flight, then landed on the woman’s shoulder.

Maaaaaaaa-teeel-da!

When the echo of the bird’s cry fell silent, the woman spoke. Her voice was soft, her words whisper-quiet. I wish to hire you.

You’ve a funny way of asking, I said. Who the hell are you?

The crow squawked.

My name is Mathilda. You are already acquainted with my familiar. He has no name. When I have need of him, I simply call him ‘You.’

Release me, witch, or you’ll soon be calling him ‘Dead.’

First, you will agree to assist me.

First, you’ll release me. The quicker you do so, the less likely I am to kill you. Do it now, and maybe I’ll forget any of this happened.

The woman pinched her lips. Your terms are not agreeable.

My terms? Those weren’t terms. This is not a negotiation.

You are right. This is not. You will agree to help me or it is you who will never leave this alley alive.

The crow rang in with another chortle.

Realizing I’d shown my cards too early—I hadn’t expected a threat in kind from the woman—and that I couldn’t follow through anyway considering I still couldn’t move a muscle, I tried another tactic. Fortunately, I’d a wide array of skills, chief amongst them my charm.

I fear you and I have gotten off on the wrong foot, madam, I said, my tone congenial. You said your name is Mathilda? Mine is…Edwarten. Edwarten Sarinius. It wasn’t really, but I’ve had reason for many years now to never use my real one. I rather liked the sound of Edwarten, too. Admittedly, the surname needed some work, but fortunately changing names as often as I did afforded me plenty of opportunities for refinement. "It is a pleasure to meet you and your…familiar. He’s a fine,