He dragged the whetstone along his blade, the slow rasp sounding unnaturally loud in the aftermath of the battle. Most of the nearby soldiers he judged to be but recently conscripted; they stood or sat quietly and barely moved at all. Shock. He had seen it before. He had experienced it himself, the first time he went to war. He’d set out in mis-matched armour and carrying a halberd he barely knew how to use, full of enthusiasm and determination. The noise and sights of that first battle had wrung that from him, leaving him with the same hollow, unthinking stare these men wore. From their age, he could tell they were the Duke of Coran’s men; it had been a long time since war had reached that far east, and so these men had made it past several decades without witnessing the horrors of the morning gone.
If he recalled the battle order correctly, that put him just a short way from where he was headed. He rose to his feet and sheathed his blade, wincing at the twin spikes of pain that drove through his knees. He wasn’t sure how many years still stretched ahead of him, but there were undoubtedly fewer than lay behind him. Still, by his reckoning it should only take a few more jobs before he could hang up his swordbelt for good.
He headed east, unsurprised by the orderliness of picket lines and encampments he passed. The general in charge of this force was a superior tactician to his employer. Were it otherwise his services wouldn’t be needed. The knapsack he carried thumped gently against his back. The straps had come loose in the furor of battle. Not a concern, this close to his goal. Now came the tricky part of his mission. He uncinched his swordbelt and wrapped it round the blade, then bent beside a cart and wedged it up beneath the bed. Willingly disarming in the middle of the enemy’s camp wasn’t the typical behaviour one might expect from an assassin, but murder wasn’t on his agenda today. It took very little time to locate the baggage train, wagons and carts of supplies strewn throughout the small woods. His age worked in his favour here, just a grizzled old man no longer fit for battle, consigned to the baggage train.
He whistled quietly as he started to work through the the carts, rummaging through crates and baskets. His search yielded results, and with half a dozen small wooden bowls and a jug of vinegar added to his pack, he moved on.
This enemy general didn’t have his tent set up separately from his troops. By appearing to be down amongst his men, one of them, he garnered more respect. Even the assassin’s employer’s troops spoke with begrudging respect of the man. This made the assassin’s job easier to get in close. He moved through the camp, weaving through tents and getting the lay of the land fixed in his mind. He couldn’t help smirking cynically; the general might want to appear to be “one of the common folk” but his tent was fully five times the size of a common soldier and there were guards discreetly posted around it. They certainly looked like normal soldiers, but they had better quality equipment than a normal footsoldier and their stance and glade betrayed their purpose.
The assassin moved into a seemingly random tent and pulled back the tarp on the ground. He dug a small hole and laid one of the bowls in it, then filled it halfway with vinegar. And then from his backpack he pulled a small sack. Inside were seven azure crystals the size of his fist. He placed one in the bowl, where it began to glow. He pushed the tarp back, satisfied that the glow was concealed. Five times more, five more bowls and crystals placed. The light was failing; working his way around the sentries was time consuming and weary, bloodied soldiers were returning, crawling into their bedrolls. With every passing moment, discovery became a real danger. He pulled back the final tentflap and bit back a curse. The bedroll was occupied, a soldier snoring softly. He moved quietly, gently, until he was crouched over the snoring man. He lunged, hands wrapping about his victim’s throat and throwing all his weight into it, crushing and silencing the man with a calm brutality. It took mere seconds until the gargled last breath escaped. He continued with his purpose, preparing the final bowl. Task complete, all that was left was for him to retrieve his sword and leave. Rather than beat a retreat immediately, once he reclaimed his sword he clambered atop a cart. From his elevated perch he had a clear view of the general’s tent, and waited, curious to see what would happen.
As dawn broke, horns sounded to rouse the troops and signal preparations for the day’s battle. From seven points spread throughout the camp, columns of azure light shot up to the sky. A glow spread between them, bathing the general’s tent in blue light.
The assassin squinted against the glow, and was perhaps one of the few people to see the general’s tent and a dozen close to it blink out of existence.
From far across the battlefield there was a brief, blinking blue light. Given the hue and cry being raised, the assassin doubted anybody else had noticed. The mage’s rigual had worked. Granted, only the general should have been teleported away but if his employer’s troops couldn’t handle a dozen disoriented men, then this war had been even more one-sided than it at first appeared.
Content his job had been done, the assassin climbed down and started to make his way out of the camp. It was possible this conflict was done, now the master tactician had been captured. It didn’t matter of course. There was always another war brewing among these small countries, another payday round the corner.