By: Sunset Gold
“C’mon!’ Alessa yells, pulling me towards the center of the city, where the strobe lights flash and the sound of so many voices crushed together echoes off the plants. It’s the Summer Solstice, the time of the biggest party in the Lost Cities. And the biggest event of the season.
I let her pull me until we’re nearly in the center of the mash of bodies, and she spins me around. “Look over there! No, let’s go there! Wait, do you see-”
“Alessa, you’re going to talk my ear off!” I chide, although she always knows I’m kidding. Even if she didn’t, she would surely sense my feelings, with her being an Empath.
Alessa makes a face. “We’ve been waiting for this for like ever, Ruby!”
“I know, I know,” I say, defeated. I let her drag me to dozens of attractions, ranging from magicians to a trio of Frosters who were making sculptures.
I close my eyes, trying to let them relax. The amount of flashing lights was insane, each one a different color. They danced across the floor before turning up to the sky, where they swirled until diving back down.
I try to focus on the attractions, and try to keep up with Alessa. My eyes soon felt like they were burning, and I rub at them, hoping that the pain would go away. It doesn’t.
Alessa soon sees my discomfort. “You okay?’
“No.” I groan. My eyes felt like they were on fire. “I’m going to head out for a little,” I tell her.
Alessa frowns. “I’ll come with you.”
“No, you enjoy the festivities.” I insist. Alessa hesitates and then disappears into the crowd.
I walk away from the party until the lights disappear and the sound is basically non-existent. I don’t see anyone nearby, and it seems eerily quiet. I shake off my feelings of discomfort and walk a little bit faster.
I eventually find a dark alley and rest my back on the brick wall, and close my eyes. At last, peace.
Until a scream shatters it all.
I whip open my eyes and peer around the brick wall, ignoring the part of me that wants to turn tail and run.
I see three people, one couple, and someone dressed in all black, a mask around their face. The person in black’s back is too me, and they don’t seem to realize I’m a mere ten feet away from them.
The man glares at the black figure. “I won’t give it up.”
The figure tilts their head. For a second, it’s dead silence.
Then their gloved hand shoots out and grab the man’s throat, effortlessly lifting him off the ground.
The woman screams again, and tiny electricity bolts jump through her hands. “Let him go!” She screeches, hands sparking with lightning.
The man makes a strangled sound and slaps the figure’s hand wrapped around his windpipe. The figure drops him, and the man crumples to the ground, wheezing. The woman drops next to him, fussing over him.
The figure taps their foot and holds out a gloved hand. The couple glances fearfully at him, and the man pulls out a silver packet from his hand and drops it into the figure’s waiting hand.
They both jump to their feet, ready to run. The figure holds up a gloved hand and pulls out a sharp blade with another hand. It glows, like the color of blood.
The Red Assassin. The one criminal the Council’s never been able to catch.
The figure twirls the dagger, and the couple shakes with fear. “You know I can’t let you leave.”
That was it. I step out behind the wall, ignoring how stupid I was being, and yell.
The figure whips around, and the couple runs. The figure looks between them and me, curses, and throws the blade at the couple’s retreating backs.
I raise both hands, letting my ability flow through me. A glowing dome forms, trapping the figure and blocking the dagger from striking its targets.
I let myself smile until I realize my mistake.
I’ve trapped myself in the dome as well, along with an assassin and a dagger.
Time seems to slow down as they get up, slowly picking up the dagger, and turn my way. The mask is more of a long visor, with no eye, nose, or mouth holes. It’s just a flat piece of polished black metal that glints like glass.
But right now, it’s probably the most menacing thing I’ve ever seen.
They stalk towards me, almost lazily, taking a step every few seconds. I back up, distinctly aware of how my pulse is racing, until my back’s pressed up against the dome. I try to unravel the dome, but my concentration is too scattered.
They stop, a mere few feet away from me. I hold my hands, letting the energy crackle through my palms.
“S-Stay away from me,” I warn, voice shaking.
They laugh, making me flinch. “What makes you think I’m going to hurt you?”
The voice seems male, which fits with what scarce descriptions I’ve heard about The Red Assassin.
I lift my chin defiantly “You were about to kill those people for no other reason than that they saw you.”
He laughs again. “There’s more to the story than that, love.”
I grit my teeth. “I know what I saw.”
He doesn’t answer, instead of letting silence rest over the conversation.
“What’s your name?” He finally says.
I glare at him, hoping that my name will scare him away. “Ruby Adair.”
He tilts his head, taking a single step closer. I press my back against the wall, pulse racing.
“Daughter of the famous Councillor Adair then.” He says.
I tilt my chin up. “Yes.”
He took a single step closer. Every self-defense class I’ve ever taken ran through my head, it was now or never.
I stepped forward, grabbed his wrist, twisted, hooked my foot around his ankle, pushed.
He falls down, obviously surprised by my attack. I pressed my forearm against his throat.
He laughs and moves a hand toward his mask. I flinch, but he only pulls the mask down, releasing the pressure, and pulls it off.
I suck in a breath. He looks about my age, with messy black hair hair, but what type of assassin is barely 18? My head struggles to fit this piece of information into what I already know; The Red Assassin started to strike about 20 years ago, right after the death of Sophie Foster. The math doesn’t work out.
And I hate when the math doesn’t work out.
“You know, I saw this in a movie once,” He comments. “The main character doesn’t expect the girl to judo-flip him and knock his lights out. I always thought it was a stupid mistake, but can’t really judge anymore.”
I gape at him, unable to understand. Shouldn’t he be trying to kill me?
But I’m not complaining.
I increase the pressure of my forearm against his throat. “Don’t try anything. Don’t move. Don’t even talk.” I say, hoping my voice carries the same amount of confidence like my mother’s.
He smirks. “Not even thinking about it, love.”
I grit my teeth. “I said, don’t talk.”
Eventually, I manage to pull out my imparter with one hand and hail the Council. Of course, it’s straight to voicemail.
“I have a criminal with me, also known as The Red Assassin. Requesting a team to take him in.” I say, repeating the message twice before ending the call.
He smirks as if he knows something I don’t. “You don’t even get a direct call to the Councillors?” He makes a tsk sound.
I glare at him, fighting the urge to knock him out cold. Or at least kick him where it hurts.
He smirks again. “I’m afraid that my time here is about to end now, sorry for the hassle.”
My cobalt eyes widen. “What?”
He grabs my wrist and twists, enough for me to pull my hand back, but not enough for it to hurt badly. He flips me over onto the pavement and pulls both of my hands behind me handcuff-style, as if I’m some criminal.
“You’ll regret this,” I warn as he zips up a zip tie around my wrists and ankles. “Do you really think the Council won’t be able to catch you?”
He grins. “They haven’t been able to do it for years, I doubt they’ll be able to do it now.”
He gets up and grabs his mask before approaching the edge of the glowing dome.
“You won’t be able to get past the forcefield without electrocuting yourself!” I shout.
He simply lifts up his gloved hands, and to my surprise, shadows pour out of them, curling through the air. They sink into the dome, and it starts to fade. It keeps on fading until it’s practically transparent.
I gape as, finally, the dome shatters into a million little bits of energy. They float to the ground before disappearing, like snowflakes when’s it's not cold enough for them to pile up on each other.
He steps outside the dome and suddenly turns back around. “The Councillors will find you in a few minutes, just...hang in there.”
He turns back around and walks to the bridge that ran across the Sapphire River. He gives me one more glance.
Then he dives into the river.
I gasp, he’s at least 50 feet up, how could anyone survive that drop? But I remember who he is. The Red Assassin is famous for his daring escapes.
As I lay on the ground, waiting for someone to find me, I wonder about who he is, and what he wants, a thought comes to me.
He didn’t kill me. He didn’t even knock me out or lock me in a cellar.
After what seems like hours, but could only have been a few minutes, I hear footsteps pounding on the street. I lift my head, only to see a group of emissaries, my mother leading them.
I would’ve waved, but y'know, my hands were tied up.
My mother kneels by me, while the other nobility combed over the surrounding area. Her face is a mask of barely controlled anger as she snips through the bonds at my wrists and ankles. I rub them, more out of nervousness then actual discomfort.
My mother finally speaks, anger laced in every word. “Where is that assassin.” She says, spitting the words out with venom.
I narrate the tales of what happened, from the part where I left the party to when my mother found me now. I do cut out most of our conversation, in case it somehow broke some random law about not speaking to criminals.
My mother purses her lips and nods. “The Council has asked to see you right away.” She says, handing me a bottle of Youth, even though I’m not thirsty.
I cringe and get up. “Let’s get it over with already.”
“Repeat the description of the couple that you saw.” Councillor Nathaniel says.
I roll my cobalt eyes. “Youngish, probably in their mid-thirties. Both had blond hair, and I didn’t get a good look at their faces.”
Councillor Bankston clicks his tongue. “We wouldn’t have to be questioning you if we could just read your mind, Ruby.’
I flinch as Councillor Sadie levels her gaze at Councillor Bankston. “And we wouldn’t have to read her mind if you actually knew how to question.” Councillor Bankston turns red, and mutters something about “privileges”.
No one can read my mind, because of my anxiety disorder. My thoughts are racing and never stop, and any telepath who tries to read my mind is immediately pulled under by the torrent of thoughts.
It also makes me have sudden panic attacks, ones that are triggered when I’m scared. I’m thankful that one didn’t strike during my little encounter with The Red Assassin. I also dealt with depression a few years ago.
Overall, it makes my life infinitely harder.
Councillor Sadie hears Bankston’s comment and flushes scarlet. Sadie’s the granddaughter of the great Sophie Foster, which won her a lot of support when she ran for the position of Councillor. Sadie’s only 79 years old, young for Councillor.
My mom intervene before a shouting match erupts. “Listen, the whole point of this meeting is to find a dangerous criminal before he hurts another one of our citizens. Ruby’s already submitted a physical description of what he looked like, and the registry department has prepared hundreds of photos. It might be like looking for a needle in a haystack, but rest assured, we will find him.”
Everyone nods and murmurs their agreement. I hide a smile. My mom has some sort of way with words, and she has a presence that makes you feel safe and calm. She also had a backbone of steel, and rarely ever backs down.
I wish I had those characteristics. Words don’t flow from my mouth like they do for her, and sometimes when I’m nervous, I can stutter. My “presence” is practically non-existent, I’m just the daughter of a Councillor with enough issues for the whole elven population. My “backbone of steel” is normally called attitude, which sounds a lot worse.
My mom gets up, her sapphire gown sweeping out behind her. “Come Ruby, we have a criminal to find.”
I get up as well, until Councillor Lera interrupts us. “What about the Midsummer Ball?”
I cringe. I was hoping everyone would magically forget about that.
My mother is silent for a moment. “Yes,” She says, finally speaking. “The ball.”
She levels her gaze at me. “Go get dressed, Ruby.”
I don’t speak, just run out of the board room as fast as I can.
Did I mention I hate Councillor meetings?
I stomp upstairs to my room, eyes burning. I hate how the Councillors manage to make me feel weak and insignificant. I hate how my mom doesn’t even care. I hate that assasin for putting me in this position. I hate everyone and everything and-
I slam into my doorway, hard.
I curse, rubbing my head, and open the door to my room. It’s just how I left it when I went to the party with Alessa. Covers piled on top of the canopy bed, pieces of paper scattered across the room, and the door to my studio wide open.
I sigh and collapse on the bed. All I want to do is sleep, but I can’t miss the ball and somehow make everyone even more angry at me.
I whip open my closet door, and snap on the light. Dresses on top of dresses hang on the racks, and shoes are perfectly lined up beneath them. I flick the dresses aside, mentally dissing each one. Too short. Too colorful. Too long. Too heavy.
I sigh and walk out of my closet. Balls are too stressful, and I half expect myself to break down in the middle on this one.
I finally pick out a ruby red dress, with a neckline up to my throat and a thin triangle slit till my collarbone. I select a ruby prism necklace, complete with matching earrings. I toss my outfit onto my bed.
After a quick look at the clock, I deduce that I have a good hour till the ball, more than enough time. I flash a grin, and walk into my studio before plopping into my desk chair.
I pull up the Nobility’s database, and search up The Red Assassin. Two dozen of reports pop up, but none longer than a few paragraphs.
I sigh and kick up my feet onto my filing cabinet. My studio isn’t big, but I feel like it's the perfect size. It’s mostly made up of bulletin boards, filing cabinets, and a bunch of tech equipment. I have an old human printer next to my desktop, and a smaller laptop for on the go.
I’m a hacker. Before you get the wrong idea about me, I don’t hack anything to break it. I hack for information, and information only. Like restricted files about a certain assassin.
I quickly select all of the reports and hit print. My printer starts making some odd sounds as it slowly prints out the reports.
I swirl in my chair, waiting. After a few minutes of not having anything to do, I grab the a paper that churns out of the printer. It’s a photo, with a small paragraph at the bottom. I squint at the grainy photo. It’s a person dressed in all black, almost blending into the shadows behind them. A mask is pulled over their face, but it’s lopsided, showing some of their face.
But it’s their eyes that catch my attention. Bright green, like the emeralds on a Councillor’s circlet.
Just like the ones the I saw on The Red Assassin’s face.
The memory of the encounter comes rushing to me. The mask being removed, me being scared, and those eyes. So bright and lively, and beautifully gorgeous. A blush creeps up my neck and cheeks, and I shake it away, refusing to acknowledge why I’m blushing.
I shake my head to clear my thoughts and examine the photo again. The man looks different than the boy I saw earlier, but the eyes are the same.
Maybe they’re related? I think, pen tapping against the edge of my desk.
A sudden thought comes to me, one that should have been my first idea.
Green eyes aren’t eye colors that elves have. Only humans have them.
My clock chimes, making me fall out of my chair in surprise. Right, the ball. But the Councillors have to know, since they seem to be in the dark about this specific photo. I have to talk to my mother.
The clock chimes again impatiently, and I slam the button on the top and hop out of my chair. Rushing into my room, I slip into the outfit I have prepared earlier. I pull up most of my hair in a bun, leaving some to frame my face.
My clock chimes again, and I don’t try to snooze it this time. I run down the hall to the ballroom, hoping to reach a councillor before the ballroom doors
At last, I find the long intricate wooden doors. I push them open, using considerable force. I leap into the ballroom, spotting Sadie.
“Sadie!” I yell, hoping she’ll hear me.
She whips around from where she was talking to one of the servants. “Ruby?”
I open my mouth to say something, anything. But at that very moment, the huge double doors swing open, and a tide of guests swarm into the room, making me lose sight of Sadie, and pushing me into a nearby wall.
Rubbing my shoulder, I mutter something about how it can’t get any worse then this. As in response, my watch chimes.
I look down with a sharp breath. Motion has been detected in STUDIO RA.
Someone had broken into my studio.
I have to leave. Now.
I look around, hesitant. When I’m positive no one’s watching me in the crowd of Nobility, I edge towards the door.
I finally reach it, and grasp the handle, ready to slip out.
“Where do you think your going?” A smug voice says behind me.
Really? Of all times, now?
I turn around, facing my childhood enemy, the one and only Ryder Benson.
“Ryder, what do you want?” I groan, glaring at him.
He smirks at me. “I just want to know why you're leaving so early. Your mom wouldn’t be so happy with you, would she?”
I open my mouth to reply with something equally as snarky and rude, but my watch chimes again. I whip it out and quickly read the message.
Someone is attempting to access your computer. Permission to enable lockdown?
I quickly it grant permission. A crushing thought that I can’t seem to escape suffocates me. Who’s trying to hack into my files?
Ryder tries to read the message on my watch, but I clasp both of my hands behind me back.
“Would you like anything else, Sir?” I ask through gritted teeth.
Ryder smirks. He opens his mouth to probably try and order me around, as he has been doing since we were children, but suddenly, the world tips severely to the side. I crumple against the doorway, as my pulse speeds up and my thoughts start to suffocate me.
No, not now. Anytime but now.
Ryder’s eyes widen as he catches me seconds before I hit the floor. “Ruby?”
I push him away and use the door to pull me up. “I-I’m fine.” I stammer, my stutter coming back in full swing. I half-expect him to start teasing me, mercilessly.
Instead, he looks at me with worry. “Do you want a drink or something?”
I shake my head. “N-No t-t-thanks.” I stutter. “I’ll j-just be r-r-retiring to my quarters.” I pull open the door and slip away.
But not before I catch Ryder looking at me, something fiery hot sparking up in his eyes. I flush, turning away and running up the stairs to my room.
My life is such a mess.
At last, I tear open the door to my room, a metal rod that I found unattended in the hallway in my hand. I let out a little gasp at the sight before me.
My room was never clean, but now, it’s torn apart. My drawers lie open, contents scattered across the floor. My sheets have been tossed onto the floor as well, and my lamp is lying on it’s side across my bed stand. Dirty footprints are scattered across the room, eventually leading to the studio.
I take a deep breath, suck up all my remaining courage, and slowly creepy towards my studio door. It’s open just a little bit, barely enough for a coin to slip through.
It’s now or never.
I kick open the door and swing the metal rod like its a baseball bat. I only hit at air though. My eyes quickly adjust, and I gape, dumbfounded.
There’s no one in here. Absolutely no one.
I’m not fully relieved yet.
I race to my tech setup, and sigh with relief as I see that my printouts were still there, and my computer still seemed to be in lockdown mood. I sigh in relief.
Then pain explodes in the back of my head. The world tilts and turns black, like a never-ending night.