Varyn woke up. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately, despite the copious amounts of Netherfel he had been consuming to keep himself in a state of slumber. The rough pallet he lay on scratched his back, and he shifted uncomfortably. Blindly, he reached for the bottle that he usually kept beside his bed. It was not there.
“Looking for your drugs, you filthy addict?” a voice snarled. “Well, you won’t need them anymore. I’m here to put you out of your misery.”
With his eyes still closed, Varyn listened as a figure in loose clothing moved quietly towards him. A quiet swish alerted the prone man to the assassin’s downward strike. However, before the blade had a chance to hit, Varyn struck out and up with a sharp, short strike.
There was silence as the killer dropped his sword into the sand beside Varyn, then the man groaned in pain. Sitting up in bed, Varyn ran his fingers through his hair and eyed his attacker, who still clutched his groin. In a smooth motion, Varyn pulled the sword out of the ground and ran the assassin through.
The man gasped, feeling the life drain from his body. He choked, staring at the masked face of his killer. “You— the Netherfel. It weakens—”
“Netherfel kills most people,” Varyn growled. “It just gives me a headache.”
He shoved the impaled man out of the tent and waited for a few seconds. His hypersensitive ears detected the stealthy approach of at least two people. The footsteps stopped for a second, then Varyn heard the men drag their comrade away into the night.
Sighing, Varyn threw himself back on his pallet and stared at the worn cloth that was his tent. He counted all the different colored patches sewn into the fabric. Twenty-eight. One less than the number of people who had tried to assassinate him, and a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people he had killed.
Why did they have to keep waking him up? He just wanted to sleep. Sleep was the last solace he had. Deciding not to go crazy from the nightmares was something he’d done a long time ago. How many years had it been? Three? Four? Five? How long had it been since he was last awake?
Varyn stuck his head out of the tent and looked at the sky. Two brightmoons. He’d been asleep two brightmoons. That was half of what he’d intended to sleep away. The Netherfel was losing its potency. The time he dreaded had come; he would have to go into town.
Silently, he sat up and spent a moment rubbing his head. He had not lied to the man about the headaches; they felt terrible, like someone hammering a wedge into his skull. Varyn knew what a wedge hammered into the tender places between his fingers felt like, so he’d extrapolated that to his skull. Regardless of its realism, the analogy fit the pain quite well, and Varyn remained seated, rubbing his temple longer than he should have.
When he finally stepped out of the tent, the sun was just starting to rise. Its warmth tingled on his skin, filling him with power, vitality. He rejected those feelings and cast them into the tent which collapsed as if a gale had hit it from all sides. Squatting down, Varyn collected the pieces quickly and efficiently, tying them together in a large bundle. Time once again, stood against him. He would have to hurry into town before the sun rose any further.
Slinging the tent onto his back, Varyn started towards the town, but a glint from the sand caught his eye. He looked down. The sword lay there, smears of blood still covering its length. Bending, Varyn picked it up.
The blade was crudely made. Cheaply forged steel, with no craftsmanship whatsoever. Whoever sent these men after him had started slacking. Something about the pommel caught Varyn’s eye though. Someone had melted a strange metal symbol to it. The symbol was obviously not part of the original design — it was made of high quality siril instead of steel. Varyn’s mind raced through all the glyphs he knew, which were three. None of them matched what he saw.
Shrugging, Varyn slid the sword in with the tent poles and started the long run back into town. The landscape he ran through was hot and dry. Dust rose in clouds behind him, but he paid them no heed. His only concern was to reach town before the sun fully surmounted the horizon. Already he could feel the power from its rays seeping into his body — a power he did not want.
Every time he felt the littlest well of heat build, Varyn cast it out of his body, using it to speed himself along. He needed to run. Faster, faster, faster. The desert sun grew hotter as an hour passed. Why had he come to the desert again? You had nowhere else to go, a small voice told him.
He could see it in the distance, the town. The sight of the clay huts allowed him to accurately gauge the distance he had left to run, and he increased his pace accordingly, no longer needing to keep a reserve of strength.
Two hours after starting his run, Varyn arrived in the small Mobek town known as Erithilililu. Two years ago, the quiet villagers would have stared at the dust-covered mask-wearing man running in from the Lethiluli (doomed place), but the sight of this strange person had become a normality, and the most attention they paid to him was a short glance, as if to see if he had changed any.
Varyn slowed shortened his stride as he arrived at the town, but did not slow his steps. He sped around corners and ducked through alleyways until he arrived at the small trade store owned by Hassanali, a gangly man missing two teeth and most of his hair.
“Hassanali?” Varyn said as he stepped past the curtain door.
Nobody responded. Varyn repeated his question, but once again did not get an answer. Unstrapping his tent from his back, the man placed his burden on the brick counter in the middle of the hut and looked around. The tradesman had not changed much of anything since Varyn had last been around. The store looked a little cleaner here and there, but that was nothing to be suspicious of. So why did he feel so suspicious?
Because there’s somebody hiding behind the counter, the small voice whispered before he could hush it. Slowly, Varyn turned to face the door, his back to the counter, as if he was peering out the window. He heard the breathing of whoever hid behind the counter tighten as she slowly rose up behind him. For some reason, Varyn had always been more attuned to the sounds women made; in his line of work, this distinction had not proved very useful, but it certainly had its benefits now.
“Who are you?”
So she was a young woman.
“I said, who are you?”
An inexperienced young woman.
“I have an arrow pointed right at your back. I could kill you right—”
“My name is Varyn. Where is Hassanali?”
“I was hoping you could answer that question.”
Varyn detected a slight tremor with the you. Was she scared of him?
“I haven’t been here for over eight brightmoons. Now I ask you again, where is Hassanali?”
There was silence. Eventually the girl spoke. “He’s dead, and I believe you are in on it. The men who did the deed spoke of a masked man.”
So it was those bastards. Varyn sighed. Another body to add to the bucket.
“Listen, kid. I don’t know who you are, or why you think you could possibly kill me with your silly little bow, but I was here to buy drugs from Hassanali, and if he is no longer alive, then I no longer have any business here. So if you will let me reclaim my belongings, I would like to leave.”
“How do you know the language so well?”
“Mobebekek. You speak it like a native.”
Varyn sighed again. “I know a lot of things. Now if you will allow me—” he turned around, just as his ears detected the sliding of a taught cord from hooked fingers. In an instant, his hand snapped out, and he caught the deadly projectile before it had a chance to embed itself in the wall.
He stared at the girl, accusation written all over his face.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, face red. “My fingers slipped.”
 A high quality metal, much like a tungsten-steel alloy