I was ready for tasks. I had to prove myself and feeling sorrow and compassion had no space in what I needed to do.
My first assignment was given to me after a week of my arrival. My handler was a lithe man but a little taller than me. I was small. He was the best at his level. The creed members spoke little, and my handler even less. He preferred to show things, and his instructions told you if you had progressed, regressed or if you were stagnant. I learnt a lot under him.
Dressed in my leather attire that passed for a traveller in most cities and villages, I waited in a long queue with my handler. I was comfortable even though there was a harsh sun out and was directly overhead. I knew it was not realistic to feel a sense of safety with my handler, but as we stood there I allowed myself the indulgence. Even though the line was long and we were one of the last, the line moved quickly. It turns out that there was no talking. We were simply handed a scroll.
Without wasting time, my handler led me to the stables. Because it was my first day, we had the luxury, and there were many like me. I had a horse to choose from. I knew the horse that I was going to choose. She was not well trained, but she was strong and had a free spirit. I had broken her. Choosing an untrained horse was not a practice as we would be put in danger, but under my handlers scrutinising eyes, I was allowed. It was at the risk of my own life and perhaps my handlers. Unaware of the consequences we would bear in our tasks I beamed to myself.
Rosin (my horse) and I had an understanding. We had an unsaid promise that we will protect one another. And this was instantly true when we met, till the day many years later she gave her life to rescue me. Loss is not new in our line of work, I was merely unacquainted with it. Seeing that I was happy, my handler left me alone in my world as he led the way to our tasks. We were to visit a lonely tavern on our way to discuss our schemes and scavenge tools and resources needed for a job. I tried to pay attention to the route and locate landmarks on our way.
The tavern was old and well maintained. It was not visible to the common passerby. Had it not been for my handler, I would have missed it completely. As we entered, the handler signalled the barkeep who seemed to know what to do. He made himself busy pouring us our drinks. This is the first time I was drinking, and needed to pace myself and keep myself alert. It was necessary to appear like travellers and seasoned one’s at that. Our scrolls looked like route maps that were common in the area. To anyone it would appear that we were travellers, perhaps lost or planning our trip forward. It was not only important to do the task, but also create a story and leave impressions among the common people. We had to create witnesses so that if there was any checking the story would lead to a closure.
In this task I was to pose as the handler's adopted sister, whom he was delivering to the groom in the village. My wild nature had been a concern in my family who were eager to marry me off. We were to pretend that we had lost our way and ask for directions and supplies. Everything had to be backed up by a story. We did not bother with acting too much, as anything over done would stand out. The important thing to remember was the story.
The keeper was familiar with the handler, and we were instructed to follow our natural instinct on the field. I tugged on my handler's sleeve, with a questioning look. My handler's smile was so warm that I was fooled for a second. He kept a reassuring hand on my hand and said he had visited this place on his previous travels and the keeper was a friend. Trust demanded that I did not ask more. I nodded and smiled back. We found a seat in a well lit corner and sat down with our scrolls. My “brother” looked indulgent with a small smile playing on a corner of his lips perhaps showing pride. I tried to focus my mind on the task of discussing options. Since this was the first time on the field I could only rely on maps. For the most part my “brother” agreed with me and nodded. Occasionally he gave inputs.
When the keeper came close to refill our ales, he would change the topic and comment something about my person, or the life I had to lead, or that my navigation skills were unusual for a girl. He also instructed me to be graceful and to allow people to know me. He clearly showed concern about me being a good wife, but since I had chosen my groom and my happiness was everything to him he conceded.
While the keeper busied himself and looked nonchalant his expressions changed as he overheard our conversations. We were deliberate in quieting our voices when he approached, but he caught onto our conversation. Our ales loosened our demeanour and talk. My brother started to look worried and concerned. He said he did not want to worry me, but we were less on supplies and he wasn’t sure if we would make it. He said he didn’t want to complain about the thieves and he wished he was a better brother. Oblivious to the approaching keeper he continued. I started to look embarrassed, trying to assure him to keep his voice down, but three hours later, the keeper could not hold it in. He offered us boarding for the night, and asked for permission to talk privately
His sister had passed away, and he caved to how vulnerable I looked. While I should be ashamed, I felt pride in being conniving. Success of my task was on my mind and I could think of nothing else. After all, he was a pawn in this game, and we had managed to make him see things our way. While he tried to talk to my “brother”, my handler acted so anxious and nervous about leaving me out of his sight that the keeper included me. He offered directions and possible location of thieves. He also confided in us about a creed that was going around assassinating crucial elites. We were both shocked and gossipped with him asking for more and more details.
No one could confirm or deny our existence, We sounded too far fetched to be real, and we all blended in society. People knew our names and where we came from. We had our consistent back stories and an explanation. We also had professions in which we were proficient that involved travel or a hobby that we practised. Some of us made known our martial arts skills while some of us are able to create art. Our personality, back story and skill sets were so diverse, that we could not be tied to anything in common. Our stories were definite yet vague to accommodate any twists that happened. While other creeds were big on markings and symbols, we had none. To let ourselves be known to each other we spoke code in common language. Even letting oneself known was a choice. Our lives were uncertain. Unless things were made explicit by each other, we did not know.
As a practice if anyone spoke of the creed, we tactfully tried to extract information, neither adding nor denying as we were trained. If the story was getting too much we were to find a distraction in any way, without the person realising we side track the conversation. The keeper appeared to be fond of conspiracy theories. To distract him, we discussed many and gossipped through the day. When fact was not clear from fiction, the keeper himself looked exasperated. He took us to his tool room shifting the conversation to where one could find thieves and how we could be careful of them.
The town was bustling and I had to get an accommodation in the town. My story would include being ditched by the groom. Not wanting to shame my family, I was to build a life of my own in the town.
Single women who were working girls was not unheard off. I secured a job after someone heard. Seeing that I was strong, they said I could protect myself well and I could keep the customer's happy. Being young served me well..
There was an opulent man who was influencing business with policies in ways that were disagreeable to certain members. He lived at the edge of this town. His termination had been ordered. My “brother” had met him at a party and had shown my picture. In desperation to get a wife, he had agreed for me to be his betrothed. I had been chosen for this task while I was studying, and slowly started to realise that almost everything was meticulously planned. Very little was by coincidence.
He welcomed my handler but appeared visibly reluctant. His demeanour insinuated that he had no intent to make good on his promise. After he laid eyes on me he wavered. Lust took hold of him. My “brother” took advantage of that.
The opulent man died that day. The real cause of death was a poison that made blood turn sour. Since no one knew about this, ascertaining the cause of death was almost impossible. He was not stable because of the magnanimous consumption of strong Ales. He was fiercely focused on seeking gratification for his lustful desires. He passed away. No one knew of our arrival and we eliminated the proof of our presence at his home. Those who saw him were too ashamed to create a fuss, assuming that the old man passed away in the course of his perverse indulgence.
Building a life in a town made me forget the shock, shame and guilt that ravaged me. My handler abandoned me saying that if I was found I would be dead, and he could no longer be with me. I do not know if the life I left behind in the temple was real or if this was real. I didn’t know if I had to go back or stay. I was to manage my own consequences. Handlers had the right to decide, and no one would question him.
Seeing how distraught I was, the keeper tried to take advantage of me. I allowed myself to be raped that night, not because I did not want to show my strength, because I felt that I was not a worthy life. I was lying on a street covered in blood when she found me.
She spoke the words and in the unconscious state, I responded. She nursed me back to health and handed me the next assignment. She confirmed that if I lived, and if I was contacted again, I had grown. I will have to return to the temple five years later, feigning a spiritual crisis. I was to leave, leaving things unattended and never return.
I worked under the keeper who took my virginity and allowed bad treatment. I became shy and withdrawn and that worked perfectly to listen in on conversations. People in the tavern would ignore me. My shy nature added to the inconspicuousness. When I would get angry and my blood would boil, I would train. I had lost charm for the keeper and he did not think of me as grope worthy. Over weekends, I would dress differently and participate in the town's games. Very few knew me as a little boy who always tried hard. My next target was the game owner.
This I had to do by myself. He needed to be killed as an accident and he was in the games when a wild bull ran amok and broke his spine. The bull was tortured and the man’s smells was always worn on the person who mistreated him. That day when the game keeper went to his exclusive yet fragile game shack I led the bull to it and set it into rage. I was hurt and received treatment. It was difficult to conceal my gender but I managed. I stayed in the games for the next three months and slowly fell away from the ranks.
As I lay in bed now, I did not dare imagine a future, hope or dream. Death was close, and whether it would knock me over, only that moment would decide. I had punished my body with practice, and fell into dreamless sleep from sheer exhaustion.